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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Jeb Bush’s ambition could turn on family concerns

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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2014 at 09:55 AM

Before starting anything as consuming as a run for the White House, candidates always say they weigh the impact of a campaign on their families. When you aspire to the most powerful office in the world, everything you have done and everyone you know becomes fair game.

That’s especially true of your family.

So, as the Washington Post reported, one of the high-stakes questions surrounding a potential Jeb Bush candidacy is how his famously reclusive wife of 40 years, Columba, feels about stepping into a spotlight that never turns off.

“It was a factor in the past,” said Darryl Paulson, a professor emeritus in government at the University of South Florida. “It’s a reason he didn’t pursue (the presidency) in 2008 and 2012. He took himself out of the running early in those years.”

This time, maybe not.

“Look at what he is doing,” Paulson said. “Why endorse candidates all over the country? Why speak to so many different groups, and why set up fundraising mechanisms unless you have the green light? I’m guessing it’s a go.”

Well, it’s not a go until Jeb says it is. He hasn’t said that yet, which leaves the rest of us to speculate.

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Jeb can raise lots of money, no problem. Jeb can potentially help moderate an increasingly strident Republican Party, making it more appealing to middle-of-the-road voters.

Jeb, at this early stage, is arguably the GOP’s best chance to recapture the White House in 2016. It would be a contentious and ugly campaign — and that’s just the primaries — but Bush may be uniquely positioned to be successful.

But at what cost?

Michelle Obama, for instance, was roundly criticized for, gasp, wearing shorts! One former staffer wrote that she was so demanding that she turned the West Wing into “the worst wing.”

At Nelson Mandela’s funeral, she drew international attention for seeming to glare at her husband, the president (oh, HIM), for taking a “selfie” with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Who could blame Columba Bush for saying no thanks?

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We assume ambition to live in the White House trumps everything for people like Jeb Bush, especially given his family’s history with the Oval Office. That’s compounded when GOP power brokers are lining up and pressuring him to run. Polls show he is gaining support. He would be a formidable candidate.

Columba Bush could be a formidable first lady, too.

As a Mexican-born American, she could help the GOP come to grips with immigration as an issue. It certainly wouldn’t hurt her husband in attracting Hispanic votes, which went heavily for Barack Obama in 2012.

She could use the bully pulpit to put the spotlight on the arts, which is a passion of hers. She has been active in promoting treatment options for substance abuse.

If the signals are wrong, though, and she wants no part of it, people won’t be surprised if Jeb decides family harmony matters more than political ambition.

Either way, any decision about 2016 for the Bushes really will be a decision that’s all about family. That says a lot about Jeb, in a good way.

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