Conservatives should be ecstatic that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is mulling another run for the presidency. So is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie too, for that matter).
If it’s a war these three Republicans want, they’ve got it. Just sit back, conservatives, and let them have it.
Because this time, the opening salvos weren’t on the conservative grassroots– they were fired directly at Bush, who, before this weekend, had his own guns aimed more directly at conservatives than any major Republican presidential contender since former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
Take a story in the Washington Post, for example. On Saturday, the paper compared two potential presidential candidates to “boxers warming up for what could become a brutal bout, sizing each other up and mulling whether or when to step into the ring.” But this time, they weren’t talking about former Sen. Rick Santorum versus Gov. Rick Perry, or Rep. Michele Bachmann versus former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: They were talking about Messrs. Bush and Romney.
And they’re right.
Earlier this year, and in years past, the expectation has been that with a single well-funded “establishment” candidate bestriding the field, infighting conservatives would roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth, and then retire their terrible campaigns with little left beyond a short book and a huge debt. But with Mr. Bush’s blatant attacks on the right, Mr. Romney saw an in: “Jeb is Common Core, Jeb is immigration,” one Romney adviser told Buzzfeed. “I want to be president,” the former governor told donors at a secret Friday meeting in New York City.
Donors who, by the way, were in town to meet with Mr. Bush.
Just before their meeting with Mr. Romney, Bloomberg had reported that Mr. Bush planned to raise $100 million in the first three months of the year– an ambitious mark to achieve, and a risky one to publicize. “The former Florida governor is looking to send a message to the rest of the potential field,” Bloomberg declared in the subtitle.
“Message: Received,” may as well have been Mr. Romney’s reply, as he worked to pump the brakes on the 30 or so conflicted donors he had gathered. “Loud and clear.”
Additionally, while these two “establishment” Republicans square off, a third, the moderate Mr. Christie, seems likely to join the fray.
Imagine that, conservatives? A three-way battle for the soul of the [establishment] GOP? For its money, consultants and votes?
Good news, we think.
Because at the same time the establishment wing of the GOP if flying into disarray, the right’s presidential candidates appear more serious, and more organized, than they have been in decades. Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and, yes, Marco Rubio, aren’t just selling books and going on cable– they’re actually current and elected politicians hurriedly laying the necessary foundations for a serious presidential run, working grassroots activists, party leaders, pastors, donors.
While Mr. Paul has an inherited — and, then, built-up — state-level apparatus, Messrs. Rubio and Cruz have some real name recognition, and large PAC and donor networks of a nature historically linked with the “establishment.” And on the governor level of the right, it seems more than likely that Govs. Mike Pence and Scott Walker will join the fray with an advantage in executive experience, even if they’re behind in setting up their national campaigns.
The first battle of the campaign is about to begin, conservatives. Put down the sword and grab some popcorn.