GWEN'S TAKE -- April 26, 2013 at 8:00 AM ET
Gwen's Take: Will Jeb Bush Run? How Confrontation Politics Will Shape 2016
Leave it to Barbara Bush to cut through the confusion. When she was asked just before the opening of her son's presidential library whether her other son, Jeb, should run for president, she said no.
And she didn't dance around it, either.
"There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes," she told NBC's Matt Lauer.
"He's the most qualified, but I don't think he'll run," she added.
It was the rare direct answer to the 2016 question, and in giving it, Mrs. Bush broke all the rules. Potential candidates (and their mothers) are supposed to play coy, and at the very least claim to be taking a break from politics (see: Hillary Clinton) or serving the people in their current jobs (see: Marco Rubio), even when everyone knows they are plotting.
Plus, there is nothing to be gained in giving direct answers when you have books to sell and lucrative speeches to give. Why answer the questions before you have to?
Barbara Bush's refreshing and familiar directness reminded me of a conversation I had with her son Jeb a few weeks ago.
We were seated on a stage at Guilford College in North Carolina last month with Bill Bradley, the former U.S. Senator from New Jersey. The idea was that we would talk about bipartisanship, and prove that it was possible for leaders from opposite sides of the aisle to disagree on big things without being disagreeable.
But the elephant in the room was 2016. Personally, I'd grown weary of the predictable question that never yielded an answer, and Jeb Bush had clearly grown weary of sidestepping it.
In his appearance on "Meet the Press" the previous Sunday, he'd even accused moderator David Gregory, who asked him to compare himself to fellow Floridian (and fellow potential 2016 aspirant) Rubio, of being a political "crack addict".
So, when we met in North Carolina, Bush opened with a discourse on the need for leadership on the national stage, and then I followed up with this variation on The Question.
"Is it possible to be treated as a leader anymore in our political discourse anymore if you are not interested in running for president -- or at least saying so?"
The audience cracked up.
"That was the trickiest way" of asking the question, Gov. Bush replied. Then he sidestepped. "I think you can have a view on leadership without running for anything," he replied.
It fell to Bill Bradley, who acknowledged that things just don't seem to be working in Washington right now, to be the optimist.
As a country, he said, we have agreed more than disagreed throughout history, especially on the big issues like terrorism. It's the subtle stuff, he said, that trips us up. And the main culpit, according to Bradley, is the corrosive influence of money in politics.
Bush does not blame money, but he does blame the way business is done in the nation's capital.
"Look, I'm not a big Washington fan, because I do believe that successful problem-solving occurs on the state and local level far better than it does in Washington," he said.
But the political system, he said, is us. "Politics is a mirror image of us. It's a circus mirror," he said. "We're much prettier than that, but it's a mirror. We allow it to happen."
Jeb Bush has a book to sell. He is also challenging his own party to reform the immigration system. This puts him, practically alone among the likely 2016 GOP candiates, in a uniquely sticky situation.
"If Jeb Bush was Jeb Bush in a Republican primary and won, the Republican Party would be changed," Bradley said, putting on his political handicappers' hat. "Because right now it is headed in a direction that will be marginalized by the extremes."
Bush steered away from the precipice once again, guiding the conversation into the lack of civic participation. But, weeks before a bipartisan gun control debate collapsed and a bipartisan immigration compromise was thrust into peril, he unwitting acknowledged why it may be difficult for a man who would share the stage with Bill Bradley, a liberal Democrat who himself once ran for president. ("Wisdom is where you find it," Bradley cracked. "And it's even in the Republican Party, sometimes.")
"It's incumbent upon all of us to say, we're going to reward people that take a chance to compromise," Bush said. "That it's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength."
Doesn't sound like a bumper sticker slogan, does it? Jeb's mother may be on to something.