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Jeb Bush vs. Mitt Romney: Who Will Win the Rich White Guy Faceoff?

Comparing the political scions of the Republican Party.
January 14, 2015, 7:35pm

At first, when considering the possible presidential candidacies of Republicans Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, you might think, "How could these patrician white scions of political families be any more alike?" When you think the word "could," the tone of your voice should bend upward, like a lady in a black-and-white film from the 1950s.

So you might be surprised to find out that, in fact, there are several ways in which Bush and Romney—neither of whom have officially confirmed they are running, by the way—are actually quite different from one another. And, if they do decide to run for the Oval Office, these differences will play a major role in determining which becomes the favored choice of all the other patrician white men in the country. Because make no mistake: if the GOP voting bloc is a pie, then Bush and Romney are competing for the exact same slice.


As the Republican primary campaign shapes up, both Bush and Romney appear to be the legacy choices available to voters with a mind for the history of our beautiful, bizarre nation. The legacies they represent, though, differ significantly. Mitt's father, George, was elected governor in Michigan three times, by increasingly large margins. That's an improvement on Mitt, who gave up on being governor of Massachusetts after just one term. He left office in 2007 to focus on the first of his (so far) two unsuccessful presidential bids.

On the presidential level, Romney made it further than his old man. Though Mitt and George share the same number of failed White House runs, George never won the Republican nomination. He briefly challenged Barry Goldwater in the 1964 primary before withdrawing, then got thrashed by Nixon in 1968, after attributing his previous support for the Vietnam War to "brainwashing."

Jeb's family looks a little different. Aside from his father's 1992 re-election campaign, the Bush men have dominated their attempts to hold elected office, both as governors and presidents, a stark contrast with the Romneys. If there's a more dynastic family in the United States than the Bush clan, there are being very quiet about it.

As you know—and if you don't, congratulations on just learning how to walk—Mitt Romney is a Mormon. This does appear to have played a role in voters' conceptions of him; a Pew research poll in 2011 said a remarkable one out of four voters would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate.


Although you might assume that, like his older brother W., Jeb is a card-carrying evangelical booster, that isn't true. He's actually a Catholic, having converted to his wife's religion two decades ago. This could come in handy appealing to Hispanics, a demo that Republicans have had their eye on for a while, and it will also likely increase his appeal with the evangelical cohort that tends to make up a large percentage of Republican voters. Because Jeb's Catholicism hasn't hurt his social-conservative bonafides—as governor of Florida, he opposed stem-cell research and abortion rights, and famously stepped in to intervene in the 2003 Terri Schiavo case—all of which will make him an acceptable candidate for the far right, even if he isn't Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.

On that note, the big question for both Bush and Romney is whether either is conservative enough to win the Republican nomination. Twice previously, Romney has proven he can twist and warp himself to be palatable enough for his party's conservative base, but not without serious effort and grumbling from the right-wing. In 2008, the man who'd brought socialized healthcare to Massachusetts ran as the party's conservative option, suggesting that he had switched sides on both abortion rights and healthcare, and that he had also championed the war in Iraq. As the Atlantic's David Graham points out, Romney knew he couldn't get to the right of the Tea Party in 2012, so he, focusing on a promise to turn around the country's economy. Graham suggests that Romney's ID in 2016 will be "Compassionate Conservative Champion of the Poor," which, considering his 47 percent speech in 2012, is sort of like Ted Turner going vegetarian.


Meanwhile, Bush's positions on social issues may be party-approved, but he has two huge red flags to address. The first is his position on immigration reform, a stance that has become more progressive since leaving the governor's office, particularly in his support for a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants. The second is his championing of the Common Core education system, which conservatives hate. Like really, really hate. Nate Silver claims this won't be as big a deal as we might think, but the Breitbarts of the world beg to differ, and if Bush is going to carry his support into the nomination, he'll need to talk the GOP into it.

Thanks to his long career in private equity, Mitt Romney is rich as hell. He's so rich that, in 2012, when he declared a net worth of between $190 and $250 million—Forbes pegged it at $230 million—some suggested he might be worth even more, like closer to $400 million. That's not as rich as Ross Perot, but it still makes Romney one of the richest men ever to run for president. And as saw in 2012, being rich can be a big problem for Mitt, leading him to say things like, "I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners," and "I like being able to fire people," among other gems.

In terms of wealth, Bush doesn't even come close. BusinessWeek published a long piece in December about how the younger Bush brother has spent the last seven years trying to improve on the $1.3 million net worth he had at the end of his gubernatorial stint. His business dealings appear to have snagged him another few mil, but he's still one Paul Cézanne away from matching Mitt. And, if he does make official his run, he'll have to extricate himself from those business interests.

That, my fair voter, is up to you to decide. But as far as the GOP is concerned, Bush presents a name-brand legacy Republican who should play to the Establishment and moderate core while being susceptible to potshots from the right. Romney is the known quantity, and a bet on Democratic weakness: If he's the candidate, it's because the Republicans don't think Jeb can overcome his family, and, most likely, couldn't reconcile his stance on immigration with the party line in the primaries. Because that's the thing about Romney: At this point, the only mystery left is seeing how he'll package himself. Everyone else already knows how they feel.

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