There's no doubt some Republicans remain unhappy with the GOP presidential field. They wish other candidates -- Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush -- had entered a long time ago. But the Iowa caucuses are in two weeks. Is there any chance, at this late date, that something could change?
All the alternative candidates have repeatedly said they won't run. But there is new speculation focusing on Bush after the former Florida governor turned heads Monday morning when he wrote, in the Wall Street Journal, a campaign-like economic manifesto headlined "Capitalism and the Right to Rise."
Starting off with a good word for House Budget Committee chairman Ryan -- never a bad move for a GOP hopeful -- Bush called for the removal of burdensome and intrusive government regulations on business. "We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise," Bush wrote. "We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck. That is what economic freedom looks like."
It could be that Bush just had something to say. It could be that he specifically wanted to influence the ongoing Republican economic conversation. Or it could be something more.
Hours after the op-ed appeared, Rush Limbaugh discussed it on his radio program. Praising the article -- "I swear, I could have written this" -- Limbaugh saw it as a possible trial balloon for a Jeb Bush run. Noting that Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore appeared on Fox News Monday morning and expressed hope Bush would run, Limbaugh concluded, "So you might say, now, that a wing of the Republican establishment [the Wall Street Journal] is floating a trial balloon for Jeb Bush."
The talk Monday came a few days after unsubstantiated reports bounced around the political world that someone -- it was never clear who -- might have been polling, or push-polling, on Bush's behalf in New Hampshire. Reporters got in touch with former top Bush White House aide Karl Rove, who emailed Bush himself for comment.
"I am not push-polling, or polling, and I am not running," Bush emailed back to Rove. Later, Bush added that he does not know of anyone who might be polling or push-polling on his behalf. The answer is definitive, Rove said: Bush just isn't running. "Please, get grounded," an exasperated-sounding Rove suggested.
Other well-connected insiders say the same thing. "Absolutely not," says one. "I do not believe for a minute that [the article] signals any intent or plan on his part to enter the political fray."
"It was a good piece, but I don't think Jeb is gearing up to run for anything," says another insider. "I haven't heard any rumblings from my Florida friends (and I have a lot in his orbit). I suspect he just wants to keep his voice in the debate."
In addition, Bush has said, often and conclusively, that he's not running for president. More than a year ago, before the current field was set, Bush himself and family members told political insiders and reporters that Bush, after spending some of his peak earning years as governor of Florida, needed time in private business to make money for his family. There were no denials about 2016, but there were definitive no's about 2012.
The bottom line is that speculation about a Jeb Bush run is more an indication of anxiety in some quarters of the Republican party than it is about a possible Bush candidacy.
Influential conservative commentator William Kristol has often called for new candidates and is now suggesting next summer's GOP convention might be brokered. New York Times columnist David Brooks predicts that if Newt Gingrich "emerges from the early primaries as the front-runner, [then] someone's going to step in."
The missing voice in all this is the voters. Talks with dozens of Republicans in Iowa last week revealed a lot of undecided voters, but little longing for a new candidate. "There is no passionate demand for a new candidate at the moment," says pollster Scott Rasmussen.
Perhaps that could change in the future -- never say never -- but the overwhelming likelihood is that the 2012 GOP nominee will be one of the current field.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.