- The Washington Times
Monday, June 15, 2015

Vowing to “disrupt” Washington’s political culture, Jeb Bush officially entered the Republican presidential race Monday, saying he would focus on economic growth and pursue the same fiscal policies he used as a two-term Florida governor to balance budgets, lower taxes and create jobs.

Even though he is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother, Mr. Bush signaled that he is not banking on his family dynasty and eschewed his family name in his campaign branding in favor of the simpler “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,” he said.

But his strong name recognition and fundraising ability catapult him to the top tier of candidates in a crowded race — he is the 11th Republican to announce a bid — but he had missteps in his pre-announcement stage and had to shake up his campaign last week.

Mr. Bush is counting on voters wanting a seasoned hand at the wheel after two terms of President Obama, who won the White House with only four years in national politics, all as a legislator.

“As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that,” he said. “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.”

The line took aim at Mr. Obama’s tenure and at the credentials of his Republican presidential rivals, including his political protege Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He also struck an anti-establishment note.

“We don’t need another president who merely holds the top spot among the pampered elites of Washington,” Mr. Bush said. “We need a president willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation’s capital. I will be that president because I was a reforming governor, not just another member of the club.”

It’s not clear how well he will be able to carry that message as the son of one president, George H.W. Bush, and brother of another, George W. Bush. Indeed, those were the last two Republicans to hold the White House, and some party voters have said they want to move beyond the Bush family.

One of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, said Monday that the nation has “Bush-Clinton fatigue.”

“I think some people have had enough Bushes and enough Clintons,” Mr. Paul told The Associated Press. Mrs. Clinton’s husband was president from 1993 to 2001 — interspersing Mr. Bush’s father and brother.

But the Bush connections also bring advantages, including an unmatched national fundraising network. The pro-Bush Right to Rise super PAC is expected to have raised tens of millions of dollars by the end of the month.

Charlie Gerow, a board member of the American Conservative Union, said the Bush name will cut both ways.

“Jeb Bush will have the advantage of his father’s money machine and his brother’s political apparatus, but he also has their last name, and that seems to be a significant challenge,” Mr. Gerow said. Underscoring that point was the absence of Mr. Bush’s father and brother at his campaign launch at Miami Dade College.

His mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, who initially opposed Mr. Bush’s entry into the race by declaring, “We’ve had enough Bushes,” did attend.

Mr. Bush plans to visit New Hampshire on Tuesday before making stops in Iowa and South Carolina this week.

He is a polarizing figure for conservatives, who generally praise his record as governor but question some of his recent political stances, such as support of K-12 education standards known as Common Core and an immigration overhaul that includes a path to legal status or citizenship for illegal immigrants.

David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, applauded Mr. Bush for governing as a “pro-growth conservative” and for cutting taxes, pushing changes to Medicaid and helping expand school choice. But Mr. McIntosh expressed some reservations about Mr. Bush’s post-gubernatorial time.

“In recent months, as Jeb Bush has turned his attention to a White House run, we’ve found that his economic agenda for the future has been light on details,” he said in a statement. “Thus, he leaves open the question of whether, as president, he would be more like the Governor Bush of old, or the more recent, cautious establishment candidate Bush.”

Mr. Gerow said Mr. Bush will have to “convince conservatives that he is the real deal for them.”

Others said they already have decided and Mr. Bush doesn’t cut it.

Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, described Mr. Bush as “unelectable” and compared him to former Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — the failed Republican nominees in 1996, 2008 and 2012 respectively.

“All three were moderates who wound up losers, and Jeb Bush will be a loser, too — if he’s nominated,” Mr. Bozell said.

Mr. Bush made his announcement hours after Monmouth University released a poll that showed him tied for third place among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, with Mr. Rubio at 9 percent and with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leading the field with 11 percent support, followed by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin with 10 percent.

“Jeb Bush was supposed to take the stage with the aura of a favorite, but his poll numbers don’t support that,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “The GOP electorate overall is lukewarm toward him, and the most conservative voters are even more negative.”

Mr. Rubio welcomed Mr. Bush into the race by referring to him his “friend.”

“In politics, people throw around the word ‘friend’ so much it often has little real meaning. This is not one of those times. When I call Jeb Bush my friend, I mean he is someone I like, care for and respect. He and I have worked closely together for many years on issues big and small,” Mr. Rubio said.

In a head-to-head matchup with Mrs. Clinton, an average of polls by RealClearPolitics has Mr. Bush trailing the former secretary of state by 5.2 percentage points. Three candidates fare better in poll averages against Mrs. Clinton: Mr. Rubio, Mr. Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.