Why you should care

The prospect of hearing “President Bush” for another four years ought to get your attention.

Democrats tend to shake their heads when Jeb Bush is mentioned as a candidate for 2016, but the former public university grad with a degree in Latin American Studies just might surprise you. Hillary Clinton may be the odds-on favorite right now, but for many reform Democrats, Jeb champions an issue that speaks to their hearts: the education of poor kids.

As governor of Florida, Bush famously promoted charter schools, more rigorous tracking of how poor kids are performing, and punishments and rewards for schools that either failed or delivered. The slate of reforms was controversial, but by 2009 Florida’s high school graduation rate was up 7.4 percentage points, and the gap between the state’s white and Hispanic students had narrowed. Florida fourth graders had made larger gains than the rest of the nation in reading, and they finished second to Hong Kong on a 2011 international reading test.

Early signs suggest that Jeb may have some key Democratic donors ready to jump.

The Teach for America crowd loved President Obama as a candidate and generally supports Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but they also agree that change isn’t happening aggressively enough under the current regime. Might they be ready to jump ship in 2016?

Early signs suggest that Bush, whose public appearances have increased significantly in the past year, may have convinced some key donors to cross over. While President Obama continues to focus on healing the economy, fixing immigration, dealing with the war on terror and the wars overseas, some influential Democratic supporters are beginning to get cozy with the next GOP front-runner. (Bush did stir things up recently when he declared that immigrant families were “more fertile” than native-born citizens, but the data backs him up, and the world appears to have moved on.)

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s controversial education reforms have paid off in Florida.

Bill Clinton famously won over Silicon Valley high rollers in 1992, and Obama raided Wall Street and other traditional GOP strongholds in his historic 2008 campaign. This time around, it could be a leading Republican who steals a base on Democratic turf. If he does, Bush could enter the 2016 race as a canny political player who dealt himself an important early ace, not just another wealthy white male GOP standard-bearer.

In fact, Bush might be in the best position to reposition his own party, particularly when it comes to immigration reform and pushing back on the staunch anti-taxation views dominating the GOP. Bush, who speaks Spanish and whose wife was born in Mexico, has called his party’s immigration policy “stupid.” He favors a route to residency (but no longer citizenship) for law-abiding illegal immigrants in his new book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. Recently, he urged the GOP-lead House to pass a comprehensive immigration bill and to stop being “the obstacle” to reform.

He has also refused to take the anti-tax pledge required today of all GOP candidates by Grover Norquist, who considers himself to be an “adopted” member of the Bush clan. And Bush has even praised his father’s 1990 tax increase, adding that the elder Bush and Ronald Reagan would struggle with the present conservative “orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”

Are these just the words and actions of a man liberated from the shackles of electoral politics? Or do they signal the beginning of a campaign to vindicate his family’s name, rebrand his party for the 21st century and ultimately capture the White House? If the latter, then get ready, because 2016 could be a real humdinger, an all-American dynastic rumble in the jungle. Bush vs. Clinton II. You might even have to catch it on pay-per-view.

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