By Philip Elliott
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush began his quest to become the third in his family to win the Presidency with a speech aimed at convincing skeptical conservatives that he is one of them. But even before he arrived on stage at Miami Dade College, the Republican’s critics were working to undercut his deep-pocketed White House bid.
“We will lift our sights again, make opportunity common again, get events in the world moving our way again,” Bush said. “We will take Washington—the static capital of this dynamic country—out of the business of causing problems.”
That can-do attitude is going to be one of the central arguments why the 62-year-old son of one President and brother to another deserves the nomination. In a speech that will detail how Florida under Bush led the nation in creating jobs and starting new small businesses, Bush also dinged rivals who still have day jobs in Washington and repeat the refrain that is standard in his campaign appearances: “People inside D.C. can’t fix D.C.”
The swipe is an acknowledgement that Bush faces challenges from Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is trailing his Senate colleagues in fundraising and polling but he has been making solid appearances before activists—and cable news—that could leave him in a solid understudy position should one of the marquee names stumble.
In national polling, Bush remains in the tight cluster of contenders atop opinion surveys but he faces serious challengers nipping at his heels, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. In fundraising, he remains a formidable candidate although his advisers have signaled that he is expected to fall short of the $100 million goal some in his circle thought was possible to collect before officially launching his campaign. Bush put together a raft of highly regarded consultants and operatives, yet last week he shuffled his team and brought aboard a sharp-elbowed operative to take over as campaign manager.
The campaign launched at a community college that Bush’s critics were quick to point out that he, as Governor, signed a budget that cut funding from the school and resulted in fewer students finding desks. On the stage that Bush was set to begin a presidential bid that has been obvious for the last six months, a banner was ready announced him simply as “Jeb!” in bright red letters. Nowhere was his famous last name visible.
There was, however, no forgetting his family. Former first lady Barbara Bush was traveling from Maine to Florida for the launch. The family’s patriarch, George H.W. Bush, was not, but he remains a revered figure among establishment-minded Republicans with an unrivaled resume in U.S. politics: former President, Vice President, CIA Director, Ambassador and Republican National Committee Chairman. Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, has a trickier relationship with the party. He ended won the Presidency promising to govern as a “compassionate conservative” yet ended his two terms deeply unpopular as the public soured on the war in Iraq that he launched and frustrated about the 2008 economic crisis that consumed his final months in office. A Wall Street bailout may have averted a global financial meltdown but the use of taxpayer dollars prompted conservative outrage and planted the seeds of the anti-establishment tea party movement that now threatens Jeb Bush’s candidacy.
For others inside the party, Jeb Bush’s policy positions on education and immigration fall squarely outside GOP orthodoxy. Ahead of his announcement, conservative activist Brent Bozell told his 7 million online supporters that Bush “is unelectable” and would sacrifice conservatives’ values. “Nominating him will be an exercise in futility—just as it was with Mitt Romney, John McCain and Bob Dole. All three were moderates who wound up losers, and Jeb Bush will be a loser, too, if he’s nominated.”
To them, Bush planned to signal he would not compromise on his support for higher education standards and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system: “I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe.“