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Jeb Bush tastes first success in 2016 nomination stakes

The early decision of Jeb Bush to jump-start a Republican race for the 2016 presidential nomination has already bagged its first victim in Mitt Romney.

The sudden withdrawal of the 2012 nominee, after briefly testing the waters with donors, was predictable, and it was likely easier for Mr. Bush to achieve than chasing off some of the other contenders will be.

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The former Florida governor, a brother and son of past presidents, had a built-in donor base among the Republican establishment, and that had a chilling effect on Mr. Romney's chances. Nor did the former Massachusetts governor ever succeed in convincing the tea party and other right-wing elements in the party base that he was one of them, despite his claim in 2012 to be "severely conservative."

For that matter, neither has Jeb Bush yet persuaded the GOP base that he is sufficiently conservative. But at least he has projected himself as smarter than his often quirky old man, and less flippant and arrogant than his older brother. In a party that appears to need a more moderate and malleable politician than most of the other hopefuls, Jeb shapes up so far as an ideological safe haven heading into the 2016 GOP contest.

In a sense, the younger Bush has Mr. Romney's failed road map of two years ago to instruct him against trying to sell himself as a true believer. Indeed, that was the advice Jeb gave in a recent speech to graduates at the University of South Carolina. "You don't need to follow the pattern," he preached. "You can do what you want to do. In fact, life is a lot better if you can find more reasons to do your own things. Don't be afraid to shake things up."

Advocating, as he does, a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and their children, and supporting the Common Core curriculum in public education, Mr. Bush has put himself on a collision course with most of the more conservative White House aspirants in his party.

A whole parade of them is poised to run as ideological purists, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Govs. Mike Huckabee ofArkansas and Rick Perry of Texas, former Sen. Rick Santorum ofPennsylvania, and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walkerof Wisconsin.

Only a few others, such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have offered themselves, like Mr. Bush, as less then knee-jerk conservatives, reaching out to racial, ethnic and gender groups that have conspicuously remained outside the Republican brand.

Although Mr. Romney bowed out with no specific reference to Mr. Bush, his departing words included advice to his party to look beyond his own and Mr. Bush's generation. "I believe that one of the next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be known as I am today, one who has not taken the message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee," he said.

Mr. Romney did not exactly advise Jeb Bush to follow him out the door, but he may as well have done so. So don't look any time soon for a Mitt endorsement of the man who showed him the door with his own early fund-raising and publicity prowess.

In 1968, when another failed Republican presidential nominee named Richard Nixon was trying again, the early Republican frontrunner was Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mitt's father. Like his son 47 years later, George also dropped out of the race prematurely in the New Hampshire primary, as polls indicated he would be snowed under by Nixon.

George Romney subsequently was rewarded for his timidity by Nixon, who as president appointed him secretary of housing and urban development. If Mitt ever hopes to follow his father's footsteps in such a lesser ambition, his thinly veiled dismissal of his main rival does not presage a cabinet post for him in a future Jeb Bush administration.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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