At first blush, one would have to assume that former Governor Jeb Bush is the most likely beneficiary of Mitt Romney’s decision to bow out of a race in 2016. But that may not be the case.
Were Romney and Bush both to have run, it would be fair to assume that their combined vote share in the early primaries might approach or even exceed a majority of the voters. The main attention in the race would be focused on the push/pull between the two, leaving little in the way of money, media attention, or available voters to impel one of the other candidates to the first tier.
In other words, if Bush and Romney were to square off against each other, it would leave little oxygen in the room with which to fuel other candidacies. But Bush does not have the kind of clout or appeal to monopolize the field by himself. His presence in the race without Romney invites other candidates to take their place in the sun as the anti-Bush candidate.
When we consider that Mike Huckabee might also run, he, Bush, and Romney would have left almost no room or resources for the likes of Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Walker, or others to amass support. But now, there is plenty of room for these candidacies to germinate.
Now that Bush is alone as the front runner, we may expect him to draw all the fire. For the next sixteen months, we will hear, read, and see all the negative material about Bush. His remarks on immigration and common core will be analyzed and dissected, imperiling his candidacy.
The very sense of ennui of another Bush running for president will encourage other candidacies to sprout and provide the shadow within which they can grow, without being shot down by early negatives. Voters will find the prospect of a race between Clinton II and Bush III somewhat less than attractive. If no steed advances in the Democratic primary to exploit this vulnerability, we can be confident that a Republican candidate will.
A tame two way Romney-Bush race was highly predictable. My bet is that Romney would have won by using the immigration issue. Now all bets are off and there is time and room for other candidates to come forward.