Jeb Bush Kicks Off Presidential Campaign

Jeb Bush Kickoff for 2016 Presidency

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Jeb Bush Kicks Off Presidential Campaign
| published June 15, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

Despite the familial associations of his last name, Jeb Bush has always regarded himself as a fixer and problem solver first, and a politician and a Republican second.

As governor of Florida, he ran as a true conservative—but not a movement conservative—with a gift for the sort of craftsmanship that reaches across the political aisle to get things done. And since he formed his political action committee on New Year’s Day this year, in essence launching the fundraising and public speaking components of his long-anticipated campaign for the White House, Bush has often cited his record as governor of the diverse and complex Sunshine State: balanced budgets, business growth, jobs creation, improved schools and education, and government that works. Bush says by entering Tallahassee as a reformer, he was able to end the state’s gridlock and political lethargy.

Now Jeb Bush, 62, wants to fix a broken Washington, and he says his experience as Florida’s chief executive makes him uniquely qualified to be the next President. Furthermore, the Sunshine State’s tough, brawling political landscape makes him the best choice of Republicans when it comes to the single-combat skills required to take on Hillary Clinton, the Democrat’s de facto front runner.

Bush is also, to a degree, distancing himself from the appearance that he is running as part of a long family dynasty, and his newly rolled out logo features simply the word “Jeb!” with no mention of the last name “Bush.”

The brother of George W. Bush and the son of George H.W. Bush announced his candidacy at 4:02 p.m. on Monday at a huge rally at Miami-Dade College. Widely covered by the news networks, the event kicks off Bush’s long-presumed run for the White House, and may bring to a close a busy succession of announcements by a dozen GOP hopefuls seeking to be the chosen one to face-off against Clinton in November 2016.

John Ellis Bush arrives relatively late to a crowded Republican field which now includes—among others—Ted Cruz of Texas, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, George Pataki of New York, Rick Perry of Texas, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

In his official announcement, Bush took direct aim at both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, hitting them especially hard on foreign policy. Bush dismissively termed Obama’s doctrine as “a phone-in foreign policy,” and said that the world had become a demonstrably more dangerous place under the guidance of Clinton, Obama and current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Bush chided the Obama administration for what he sees as its monumental failures: the “slowest economic recovery in history,” the build-up of a “regulatory state,” and a drawn-down of U.S. military strength and intelligence muscle at the very moment when the world is at its most dangerous, with technologically advanced adversaries on every continent, murderous militants on the move, and “alliances unravelling.” Bush promised a top-to-bottom rebuild of the U.S. military, and added that one guiding principle of his administration would be to insure the U.S. would stand with Israel.

Interrupted frequently by applause from the boisterous, friendly crowd, Bush also said that economic recovery would be one of his top priorities, and established a goal of 4% economic growth per year, which he said would translate into more than 19 million new jobs. Bush said that the U.S. could not expect to remain a viable economic force with falling wages and a shrinking middle class.

Bush paid special tributes to his mother and his wife, but was interrupted by about a dozen demonstrators midway through comments about Barbara Bush. The hecklers were holding signs in favor of the rights of immigrant children to find a path toward citizenship in the United States. Bush diverted from his script and chose to address the issue of immigration head-on even as the protesters were still shouting, telling the audience—while gesturing toward the protesters—that he intended to bring about immigration reform not by presidential decree but through comprehensive legislation.

A few moments later Bush spoke in Spanish, referring to the American dream and calling the United States a beacon of freedom and opportunity.

Addressing the issue of a possible rematch between a Clinton and a Bush in 2016, Jeb Bush characterized the race as “wide open,” and said that no one should be automatically elevated to the role of front runner based on the length of their resume. He also acknowledged the crowded Republican field, and called his GOP colleagues qualified. But Bush also sought to break out of the hectic, jostling pack by harkening back to his days when he ran as a reformer in the state of Florida, and citing his attempts as governor to challenge the status quo in Tallahassee. He made an indirect but clear reference to the half dozen GOP combatants who hail from the U.S. Senate, suggesting that governors are better qualified for the hard work and gritty details required to be a chief executive. That small barb is seen as an early indication of the strategic rift within the crowded field of Republican candidates, which may soon pit Congressmen against governors.

For the most part, Bush cast himself as a policy wonk and a fixer.

“We will take Washington, the static capital of this dynamic country, out of the business of causing problems,” Bush said. “I know we can fix this, because I’ve done it.”

Bush has long been a semi-presumed front-runner within a part still working out its internal fractures after Mitt Romney’s stinging—but narrow—defeat in 2012. Bush is held in high regard by policy experts and reformers, but he is sometimes viewed with suspicion by social conservatives and fiscal hawks. Bush was also viewed as a potential polling front-runner as recently as December and January, but the increasingly crowded field has essentially levelled his numbers—lumping into a top tier with several other candidates, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Bush may also face a serious challenge from his friend and protégé Marco Rubio. Bush and Rubio will both be attempting to break out of the pack in advance of Florida’s early primary next year, but some analysts suggest they may also split the Sunshine State voters, thus opening the path for other leaders.

Bush’s political action committee, Right to Rise, kicked off its operations in January. Bush quickly became the fundraising leader within the GOP field, raking in millions each month with appearances, speeches, and calls for donations. Bush’s strategists and top staffers had hoped to use that cash operation—much of it recalibrated from Romney’s top 2012 donors—to dissuade real and potential competitors within the Republican field.

But now Bush may find it difficult, despite that cash, to set himself apart in a field which now includes a dozen other well-known contenders. Indeed, polls continue to fluctuate, often with Bush tied for first place among two-to-three other top tier candidates. Things got so dicey in May that Bush decided it was time for some staff changes, including hiring a new campaign manager, Danny Diaz.

Most political analysts say that Bush’s biggest challenge will be breaking free from the legacy of his father and his brother, a quandary which may inhibit some Republicans from giving Jeb Bush their early and enthusiastic support, and may deliver ammunition to Democratic strategists in the general election.

Officially, which is to say according to Federal Election Commission filings, Bush becomes the eleventh candidate to enter the Republican race. Though there are rumors of more interested parties within the GOP, many political analysts believe that Bush may be the last of the major figures to enter the arena.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Rick Perry Joins Crowded 2016 Contest; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 4, 2015.

GOP Governors Seek to Sharpen Foreign Policy Skills; Thursday Review; June 9, 2015.