Jeb Bush would be 'fantastic' in 2016: Sternlicht

Starwood Capital chief Barry Sternlicht, a Democratic voter in the past, told CNBC on Thursday that he's really impressed by Jeb Bush, who's making the rounds among Wall Street power players as he explores a 2016 Republican presidential run.

Sternlicht, who describes himself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, discussed the strengths of Bush, after attending a private event in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, on Wednesday night, at which the former Florida governor raised money for his political action committee.

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Citing Bush's platform for improving education, Sternlicht said it's really important for the country and Bush has a track record of success on that issue in Florida.

"Bush's biggest problem is his name," the Starwood Capital chairman and CEO said in a "Squawk Box" interview, referring to possible voter reluctance to putting another Bush in the White House. His brother George W. Bush and father George H.W. Bush, were the 43rd and 41st presidents, respectively.

Sternlicht said Jeb Bush has been convincingly addressing the name issue by saying, "'Look at me for who I am. I am what I am. I'm not my brother. I'm not my dad.' It's the right message. He says 'look at my track record.'"

One of Bush's potential Republican rivals should he decide to run could be Chris Christie. Sternlicht said he likes Christie's no-nonsense approach to governing, but sees a big hurdle for the New Jersey governor on the national stage. "Christie's biggest problem is his state. His state has not done very well. And it's not doing well."

Sternlicht said of his politics that he's really an independent. "I'm voting for the nation's balance sheet" and fixing the economy.

"I [also] really look forward to wage inflation. I'm really hoping that that kind of brings the nation together in what's going to be a fun political environment," he said. "That would be the third leg of a missing economy in the United States." Middle-class Americans would get a "double dividend with lower oil" and cheaper gasoline, he added.

While lower oil can help consumers, concerns about falling crude prices had put major pressure on stocks in the new year. But in early trading Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 were working on two winning days in a row.

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Sternlicht said he's heard people talking about $13 a barrel oil, but he thinks crude in the U.S. will bottom at $35. West Texas Intermediate was trading around $49 Thursday morning. He said it could be 18 months before prices start to really rise again.

Since there's no inflation to speak of and the dollar is rising against the backdrop of slowing economies in Europe and China, he said, the Federal Reserve doesn't have rush to hike U.S. interest rates.

If the U.S. central bank increases rates this year, it will be only a "token" hike, Sternlicht argued.

"There's no real source of global economic growth. And we're going to be lower for longer everywhere for a while," he said.

"We raise rates, the dollar gets stronger, the economy gets weaker, exports get more expensive," Sternlicht said. "We would put a big halt on the U.S. economy if the dollar continues to strengthen against global [currencies]."

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