Let Rand Paul have his epic filibuster and Ted Cruz his scowling threats to shut down the government. Let Chris Christie thunder to a second term as the governor of New Jersey, his hubris flowering as his ultimate designs on the White House take shape.
Jeb Bush, lying low in the subtropics of Florida, has something they don't: the unalloyed affection of many of the Republican Party's most influential moneymen, who are waiting for word on what he'll do, hoping that he'll seek the 2016 presidential nomination and noting with amusement how far he has drifted off fickle pundits' radar, at least for the moment.
Politics today has a shorter memory than ever. It also has a more furious metabolism, which Bush hasn't fed much since March, when he was promoting a new book on immigration and created enormous confusion about whether he does or doesn't support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who came here illegally. (He later clarified that he does, with caveats, and even later praised immigrants for being "more fertile.")
But with the exception of that immigration mess, Bush has been a more articulate advocate of a new tone and direction for the Republican Party than have Paul, Cruz, Christie or others currently in the foreground of the 2016 race.
He has signaled more willingness for fiscal compromise with Democrats than Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, for example, have. He has rightly emphasized the importance of social mobility to America's fortunes and has rightly sounded an alarm that such mobility is on the wane.
At 60, he's older than any of the five potential Republican presidential candidates I've mentioned, and his face is less fresh, thanks largely to a surname shared with the party's last two presidents.
But here's the first great irony of the 2016 race: If Republicans care about safeguarding their future, their wisest and best bet may be to reach back into their past. In a pack not exactly brimming with moderate, sensitive voices, Bush's stands out as less strident, more reasonable and more forward-looking than his potential rivals'.
Bush has registered concern with the way the party can come across as "anti-science." He has also referred to it as "the party of no," correctly noting that Republicans right now are defined negatively, by all they're against.
So what is he for? He talks extensively about educational opportunity, grounded in school choice. He has called for a "patriotic energy security strategy" that diminishes our reliance on foreign oil by more thoroughly tapping domestic sources of oil and natural gas. He'll need a broader agenda than that to turn Republicans into the Party of Yes.
Bush has shown some of Christie's nerve. Last year he said that both his father and Ronald Reagan would have a difficult time fitting into the intensely partisan Republican Party of today and "an orthodoxy that doesn't allow for disagreement."
"We've lost our way," he said earlier this year.
The party needs to do better with Hispanic voters, and Bush isn't just bilingual but also, in a sense, bicultural, with a Mexican-born wife.
Swing voters looking for a Republican who supports abortion rights or gay marriage aren't going to find one in him. But then they're not going to find one in Christie or Ryan, either.
I'm told that while Bush is mulling a candidacy, there's only a 20 to 30 percent chance that he'll press the button. Many factors play into that decision: his family's privacy; the reality that he and Rubio can't both run; the nascent political career of his son George P. Bush, who might be better served by a longer Bush lull.
He's better positioned for 2016 than he was for 2012, when the bitter disappointments of his older brother's presidency were more keenly remembered and frequently invoked. Besides, if Hillary Clinton rolls to the Democratic nomination, Republicans needn't be so concerned about a nominee of their own with a dynastic aura. Clinton versus Bush would be political royalty versus political royalty.
© 2013 New York Times News Service