The presidential nomination race is frozen. The big money and the gritty organizers won’t make 2016 election commitments until the putative front-runner makes a move, in or out of the campaign. The deep freeze frustrates politicos, though the vast majority of Americans is happy not to talk about a fight for the White House just now.
It’s customary to apply that analysis to the Democratic contest, where former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham is considered the pacesetter of the race, if not the overwhelming favorite. But that critique applies as well to the Republicans, where a bunch of rookie politicians are angling for advantage but where the real contest won’t take form until former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida decides whether to mount a campaign.
The result is an unusual and perhaps unique overture to a modern presidential election, with both major parties awaiting the decision of a major candidate.
There are only two possible analogues, and neither is quite as dramatic as the 2016 case.
One is 1952, when the parties awaited the decisions of President Harry Truman and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, though Truman lost the New Hampshire primary to Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and suffered from plunging poll results. The other is 1928, when Calvin Coolidge’s decision not to run for re-election threw the contest for the White House into paralysis until Gov. Al Smith of New York and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover formally decided to run.
This time the slow emergence of Bush, the son and brother of presidents, is the major factor shaping the GOP race.
As possible candidates such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky seek to establish their legitimacy, and while Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey struggles to recover from the scandal on the George Washington bridge, Bush is positioned as something of a white knight: a mainstream profile for a party struggling for identity, an experienced campaigner amid near-amateurs, a Catholic fluent in Spanish for a party increasingly reliant on the white Catholic vote (Mitt Romney won 59 percent in 2012) but dangerously unappealing for Latino voters (Romney took only 27 percent).