Hoping to expand the White House dynasty established by his father and brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush formally launched his presidential bid on Monday with a fiery pledge to “run with heart” and a pumped-up promise of “keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe.”
Bush — flanked by his three children; wife, Columba; and mother, Barbara — made the announcement to hundreds of supporters, including members of the Florida Cabinet, crowded into the Miami-Dade College campus in Bush’s one-time hometown of Kendall.
Monday’s much-ballyhooed event ended months of speculation about Bush’s entree into what is expected to be a crowded Republican primary field, something he noted in his half-hour remarks interrupted frequently by applause and cheers of “We love Jeb!”
“…Not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open — exactly as a contest for president should be,” Bush said.
Bush, who just returned from a week-long trip to Europe where he met with high-level officials, laid out some of his campaign themes, touching on foreign affairs, economic growth and education, while touting his eight-year record as Florida governor ending in 2007.
“We will take Washington — the static capital of this dynamic country — out of the business of causing problems,” Bush promised. “We will get back on the side of free enterprise and free people. I know we can fix this. Because I’ve done it.”
Bush pledged to increase the country’s economic growth rate to 4 percent and to make the nation “energy secure” within five years.
The trimmed-down Bush — he told reporters this year that he was on the low-carbohydrate “paleo” diet — also jabbed his Republican primary opponents, including a veiled reference to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush protÃ©gÃ© who has emerged as one of the top GOP contenders in the 2016 presidential race.
Calling himself a “reforming governor,” Bush noted that, as the state’s chief executive, “there’s no passing off responsibility … no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success.”
Bush — who revived his iconic “Jeb!” logo for his 2016 campaign — said there’s no substitute for experience,
“We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it,” he said.
Hours before Bush delivered his remarks, Rubio welcomed Bush to the race with two posts on Twitter and a statement posted on Rubio’s campaign website.
“In politics, people throw around the word ‘friend’ so much it often has little real meaning. When I call @JebBush my friend, I mean it,” Rubio tweeted Monday morning. “My friend @JebBush is a passionate advocate for what he believes, and I welcome him to the race.”
Bush has assembled a campaign machine headed by long-time adviser, Sally Bradshaw. Mike Murphy will direct the Bush-backing “Right to Rise” political committee. The former governor and the committee reportedly amassed tens of millions of dollars in what will be an expensive battle.
As evidenced by the presence of the three Republican Florida Cabinet members — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — as well as three former Republican Party of Florida chairmen at Monday’s event, Bush has been viewed by some as the “establishment” candidate. That label may be a burden in an era when tea party Republicans, including Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, have emerged victorious in contentious primary elections.
“His biggest challenge is he represents more of the same in a GOP that over the past few years has been looking for less of the same,” said Democratic consultant Steve Schale, who led President Barack Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008.
And, while some have branded Bush as too moderate to appeal to a divided Republican party, he, along with his supporters, point to his record in Florida as proof of his conservative bent.
After taking office in 1999, Bush did away with minority preferences in government hiring and university admissions, shrank the number of state workers and — heading the state during an economic boom — repeatedly cut taxes. He also pushed an education voucher system that allowed children in failing schools to use public dollars to pay for private schools. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that the program was unconstitutional.
Bush’s other high-profile voucher program — one that gives tax credits to businesses that subsidize private school educations for low-income children — is the subject of another lawsuit.
Bush also alienated Democrats during his Tallahassee tenure with his stands on social issues. Bush backed restrictions on abortions and signed the nation’s first “stand your ground” law. And he was embroiled in controversy over his attempt to keep Terri Schiavo, who was in a vegetative state and fed through a tube, alive.
Bush’s legacy in Florida, however, remains the education reforms that have of late developed into a flashpoint for conservative critics. Bush pioneered a school accountability system that included more testing of students and imposed a grading system on schools based on student performance.
Bush, who after leaving office created an educational foundation, at one point supported the nationwide “Common Core” education standards but has since insisted that the states should be responsible for setting the measures.
“When a school is just another dead end, every parent should have the right to send their child to a better school — public, private or charter,” he said Monday. “Every school should have high standards, and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them. Nationwide, if I am president, we will take the power of choice away from the unions and the bureaucrats and give it back to parents.”
The bilingual Bush, who met his wife in Mexico, departed briefly from his prepared remarks on Monday after being heckled by a group of people whose lime-green shirts spelled out “Legal status is not enough.”
“Just so my friends know, the next president will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved, not by executive order,” he ad libbed, referring to an Obama executive order aimed at preventing about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.
Those who know the wonkish Bush well say that his greatest strengths could also be his greatest liabilities, and they aren’t referring to his last name.
Bush is the kind of leader who “knocked the water out of the bathtub” and is unrelenting, said GOP strategist J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich, who first met Bush 30 years ago and has been a close adviser for two decades.
Bush’s three “most salient characteristics are his name, his intelligence and his genuine love for policy,” Stipanovich said.
“And if he’s not going to be elected president it will be because he didn’t say and do the things that he needed to do to win the primary. He’s going to increase his risk in the primary to lower risk in the general election. And the reason he’s going to do that is because that’s who he is,” he said.
But others painted Bush’s steadfastness in a less amiable tone.
“… What makes the specter of a Jeb Bush presidency even more unpalatable is his belief in his own superiority and infallibility — in my 22 years in elected office I have never worked with someone who is as inflexible, uncompromising, and willing to do whatever it takes to get their way as Jeb Bush,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who served in the Florida Legislature during Bush’s tenure as governor, said in a statement. “These are not the qualities Americans need in their president if we are going to work together to get things done.”
Bush earned a reputation among reporters for being thin-skinned and having a temper that flares quickly. And, unlike many other politicians, Bush rarely if ever stuck to talking points when speaking publicly.
“He isn’t afraid to mix it up, isn’t afraid to be bold,” Schale said. “His frankness at times can get him in trouble.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida