“I will take nothing and no one for granted. I will run with heart, and I will run to win.”
That’s how Jeb Bush capped an impressive speech Monday to (officially) launch his presidential campaign. Say what you will about the specter of political dynasties — Bush had something to say about them, and Jay and I will, too (hint, hint) — but the former Florida governor seems ready to run his own race as his own man.
Bush has said he wants to run a “joyful” campaign, and his speech at Miami Dade College made clear a few ways in which he will try to run on optimism rather than merely putting down President Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
He started off talking about the economy, reminding the audience of Florida’s boom during his time in office. “There’s no reason we can’t grow (the economy) 4 percent a year,” he said, claiming that would translate into 19 million new jobs, “and that will be my goal as president.” He laid blame for stagnation at Washington’s doorstep, calling it the “static capital” of a “dynamic country.” Like other Republicans, Bush indicated he’d go after over-zealous regulators (“it’s time to make rules for the rule makers”) and reform the tax code, which he described as the result of small-time thinking and special interests. “Leaders,” he said, “need to think big.”
Education policy is another strength from Bush’s time as governor, and he talked about the need for kids in failing schools to have more choices. Though he did not mention the words Common Core, he did refer to the national education standards in way that draws a distinction between the U.S. Department of Education and an arrangement among states: “Every school should have high standards, and the federal government should have no role in setting them.”
It’s clear Bush will first try to distinguish himself from the senators running for president, and particularly fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. (A state senator who spoke right before Bush — after an hour-long lead-up that seemed destined to continue right through the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland — pointedly called Bush “the Florida Republican who can win.”) He referred to those who have “proven incapable of fixing” our problems, which seemed like a reference to Congress and the 2016 candidates who are members of it. He went further in distinguishing between governors and senators: “As we’ve learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that.”
As for Democrats, Bush leveled his biggest criticism of the current president regarding foreign policy. He slammed Obama’s thawing of relations with Cuba’s dictators, panning a potential presidential visit to the island as the act of a “glorified tourist …. We need an American president to go to Havana in solidarity with a free Cuban people, and I’m ready to be that president.” He also touched on Obama’s missteps in the Middle East, if more gingerly than other Republicans have: “Our president and his team have been so eager to be the history makers,” he said, “they’ve failed to be the peacemakers.”
From what I’ve seen of the GOP contenders, there’s clearly a feeling foreign policy can be a strength for the party’s nominee as Hillary Clinton tries to take the baton from Obama. And there’s the rub for Jeb: Like Mitt Romney’s hamstrung ability to attack Obamacare credibly given his track record in Massachusetts, a Bush as GOP nominee could neutralize the party’s ability to campaign against Clinton’s time as secretary of state.
Bush on Monday didn’t shy away from his family’s political history: “I met my first president on the day I was born and my second on the day I was brought home from the hospital,” he quipped. He flipped concerns about dynasties on their head: “The presidency should not be passed down from one liberal to another.” Ultimately, he said he aimed to win the nomination on his own merits: “It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test. And it’s wide open, exactly as a contest for president should be.”
That last one in particular was a good line, and a high aspiration. But it’ll take more than that to convince the electorate, in the GOP primary and perhaps beyond, that Jeb Bush represents something new.