6 takeaways from Bush’s launch

6 takeaways from Bush’s launch

Jeb Bush had a lot riding on his official presidential launch on Monday. 

Stumbles over the last few months have stripped the sense that the former Florida governor is the front-runner for the Republican nomination next year. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Bush has looked rusty at times on the campaign trail, and a reshuffling of his campaign team just last week highlighted the sense that he needs to get his candidacy in order. But the professionalism of Monday’s launch is likely to calm the nerves of some early Bush backers disconcerted by the early missteps. 

Here are six takeaways from a positive day for the Bush campaign. 

Hillary cast as Obama’s third term

Republicans have long expressed concern that selecting Bush as the nominee would hamper their intended criticism of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as part of the status quo.

Bush’s solution became crystal clear on Monday, as he sought to portray the former secretary of State as a continuation of the Obama presidency. 

“The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next,” Bush said. 

He also pointedly referred to “the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team,” and sought to use the contrast between Clinton’s dominance among Democrats and the crowded Republican field to his advantage. 

“The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election,” he said. “To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name: That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left.”

The rhetoric, in addition, echoed criticism from Republicans and Democrats — targeting Bush as well as Clinton — that the presidency is not a crown to be passed between two families. 

No going back on immigration and the Hispanic vote

The one truly unscripted moment in Monday’s announcement came when immigration protesters stood up in the hall, with a slogan proclaiming, “legal status is not enough.”

That was a reference to Bush’s position on immigration: He believes in a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, subject to certain conditions. In a GOP primary, Bush is much more likely to come under pressure for being too responsive to the demands for liberal reform, rather than not going far enough.

But Bush appears to be sticking fast to his position. In response to the protesters, he promised “meaningful immigration reform,” in contrast to the executive actions pushed by President Obama.

The launch of the Bush campaign also stressed, in ways large and small, his team’s belief that he can broaden the GOP’s appeal, especially with Hispanics. 

His speech at one point transitioned from English to Spanish, with the former governor asserting that he intends “to let everyone hear my message, including the many who can express their love of country in a different language.” 

“Ayúdenos en tener una campaña que les da la bienvenida,” he continued — a Spanish sentence that translates as, “Help us to have a campaign that welcomes them.”

Whether that message resonates with a GOP hungry for a presidential election victory after two successive defeats, or instead irks cultural conservatives at the party’s grassroots remains to be seen.

Threading the education needle

Together with immigration reform, Bush’s support for Common Core has been one of the main reasons cited by conservatives as a reason they are reluctant to back him.

The former Florida governor sought a middle ground on the subject Monday. He did not retreat from his support for the principles of the program, nor did he mention it by name. Instead, he insisted, “Every school should have high standards, and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them.”

The fundamental conservative criticism of Common Core is that it represents an excessive federal intrusion into education.

Bush had plenty to say about education in general, but most of it was framed in ways much more conducive to eliciting conservative support. He emphasized his support for school choice and took a swing at the teachers unions that have long been an object of scorn among conservatives.

“If I am president, we will take the power of choice away from the unions and bureaucrats and give it back to parents,” he pledged.

Shaking off the cobwebs

Campaign launches are always scrutinized for things going wrong. But Bush’s Monday event was slick and professional throughout, with the single exception of running behind schedule.

Most importantly, Bush delivered his speech in a strong, full-hearted fashion, a rebuttal to oft-voiced criticism that he can be a cold and overly professorial figure. His response to the attempted interruption by immigration-rights activists showed passion without being excessively hot-tempered. 

Handling the Bush name

Neither George H.W. Bush nor George W. Bush was present for today’s announcement — perhaps no surprise, given the latter Bush’s low ratings in office and the electorate’s broader concerns about dynastic politics.

But the launch did have a strong family element. 

Bush matriarch Barbara Bush received rapturous applause and a shout-out from her son, while Jeb Bush’s eldest child, George P. Bush, spoke about his father shortly before the candidate took the stage.

As for the presidents in the family, Bush tipped his hat to them in a somewhat self-deprecating fashion:

“In this country of ours, the most improbable things can happen,” he said. “Take that from a guy who met his first president on the day he was born, and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital.”

Willing to earn it

Back when the former Florida governor first indicated his willingness to enter the presidential race, his supporters believed he could swiftly rise to dominance, intimidating some potential rivals to stay off the battlefield. 

That has not happened. Bush’s poll ratings are markedly low in Iowa, victory is guaranteed nowhere, and he faces stiff challenges from fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Bush retooled Monday, presenting himself as a candidate willing to earn the nomination, rather than rely on his famous last name or the formidable donor network that comes with it.

Noting that there are “good people running for president — quite a few in fact,” Bush went on to say, “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.”

While those lines were, in part, an exercise in humility, they also reflected a man preparing for a tougher race than he and his backers might have hoped for.