Jeb Bush+Mitt Romney

Jeb Bush, left, was a guest on Mitt Romney’s plane during Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, foreground right, and then-Rep. Connie Mack, foreground left. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Politics
By Philip Rucker and Robert Costa
January 10, 2015 at 7:34 PM

Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have much in common. Both were pragmatic as governors, mild-mannered as candidates and more comfortable balancing budgets at their desks than clinking glasses at a political dinner.

The two Republican leaders’ personal rapport is cordial. But they are hardly chummy — and at moments their relationship has been strained, with each man’s intertwined political network carrying some grievances with the other’s.

As Bush, 61, and Romney, 67, explore presidential campaigns in 2016, they are like boxers warming up for what could become a brutal bout, sizing each other up and mulling whether or when to step into the ring.

Their early maneuvering reveals a level of competitiveness and snippiness that stems from a long history following similar career paths in business and politics prescribed by their dynastic families.

“We’re seeing the first shots of the war between clan Romney and clan Bush,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who has worked for both men. “Both bring to the battle incredibly powerful fan clubs as well as wounds they have to heal. How ugly could it get? You’re only competing to lead the free world.”

Bush has been trying to consolidate support among establishment donors, leaders and operatives since announcing in December that he would begin laying the groundwork for a likely campaign.

“The Bush connection is a centrifugal force, and it’s drawing back a whole generation of public servants and politicos,” said former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, one of Romney’s 2012 opponents.

But on Friday, Romney sought to slam the brakes on Bush, telling about 30 powerful donors that he, too, was seriously considering a 2016 bid. “I want to be president,” he said, adding that his wife, Ann, was supportive.

Romney has begun methodically calling donors, staff members and endorsers from his two prior campaigns to measure how deep his reservoir of support would be if he runs for a third time, his advisers said. He also has scheduled a series of public speeches, including a Jan. 28 address at Mississippi State University.

The entry of both Bush and Romney is far from certain, and Romney’s dalliance is preliminary. But the prospect of two center-right heavyweights entering a 2016 field likely to be fluid, crowded and diverse forces other contenders and the party’s stable of donors to adjust their thinking.

“Awkward,” was the reaction from several past Romney supporters when they learned he was weighing a 2016 campaign. If both he and Bush run, they would occupy similar space as favorites of the party brass and business community.

“The abundance of great candidates developing on the Republican side is making life very tough for me because I’m going to have to choose amongst friends,” said former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, who was White House chief of staff under Bush’s father but a top campaign surrogate for Romney.

But, Sununu added, “it’s applesauce right now. Let’s not try to pick up applesauce and move it to the other side of the plate.”
More personal race

The two candidates would invite comparisons to each other, which could be tense for Bush, who was sharply critical of Romney’s 2012 campaign — in particular, his lack of outreach to minorities — and has pledged to run a more inclusive and transparent campaign.

“A Romney-Bush race could end up being nastier than Jeb against someone like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul,” Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said of the Texas and Kentucky senators. “A Cruz-Bush race is pretty straightforward and ideological. A Romney-Bush race would be more personal — about whose turn it is and who is owed it.”

Associates of both men insist there is no animosity between them and that each will make his decision about a 2016 run irrespective of the other.

“Governor Bush respects Governor Romney,” said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, who worked on Romney’s 2012 campaign. “His process moving forward won’t be impacted by Governor Romney’s decision to explore a run — and I would assume it is the same on the reverse side.”

Beth Myers, a longtime adviser to Romney, said he and Bush have been friends since 2002, when Romney was elected to his first term as Massachusetts governor and Bush to his second as Florida governor.

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