On Monday morning, struggling GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush launched a revamped campaign aimed at convincing GOP primary voters that he is a man of action – someone they can count on to get things done if they send him to the White House. The new push, under the motto “Jeb Can Fix It,” coincided with the launch of a new campaign book called “Reply All: A Governor’s Story 1997-2007.”
The book presumably is meant to support the campaign’s effort to overcome the former Florida governor’s flagging poll numbers and silence the wagging tongues of political commentators who have spent the past few weeks piling on with criticism of how he has run his campaign so far.
To be honest, though, “Reply All” doesn’t look likely to get the job done.
Campaign books are genre unto themselves and run the gamut from slapdash efforts plainly thrown together by staffers to serious policy documents. But the book released by the Bush campaign today fits none of those categories. It is unique in both its content and format.
In the end, the book is a collection of hundreds and hundreds of emails from Bush to his staff, to supporters, to critics, and to citizens of Florida asking him to intervene in their personal problems. Divided into chapters by year, the emails are presented chronologically, often in groups that detail Bush’s response to certain issues or individuals and generally with a brief gloss from Bush himself.
What voters will make of the book – assuming any of them wade through it – is anyone’s guess. Bush’s emails are already in the public record and have been closely combed over by the political press, so there’s little here that’s new.
A few things it does reveal about Bush
• Apparently nobody told the incoming governor about the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” rule of the Internet. The book includes various examples of Bush, especially during the early days of his first term, personally responding to nasty emails from disgruntled constituents, including the sort of ALL CAPS rants that most people in public life would likely delete without reading.
• Bush was a bit of a micro-manager who got into the details of things like website design.
• As has been well-documented, Bush carried on extensive correspondence with reporters both in Florida and across the country. However, he definitely made some unusual choices about the kind of information he chose to share. In response to a question about how he was adjusting to the governorship from Brian Crowley of the Palm Beach Post, for example, he commented on the access to the bathroom from the governor’s office.
• No issue was too small for the governor of the country’s third largest state by population to take an interest in. Seriously. When a St. Petersburg resident wrote to complain about a teenager who had thrown a baseball through a screen window, the governor responded. At length.
The emails reveal a very human side of the candidate. The admiration he feels for his father, former President George H.W. Bush, is evident in his writing from more than 15 years ago, suggesting that his frequent paeans to his father on the campaign trail are something that is deeply felt and not born of political calculation. His responses to young people who wrote him seem genuinely enthusiastic and thoughtful. His loyalty to his wife, Columba, when she was caught trying to avoid customs fees on clothes bought during a shopping trip to Paris reads as heartfelt.
However, while the book may be interesting to future biographers or academics studying particular policy issues that arose during Bush’s two terms in office, it’s hard to see how a curated collection of emails moves the needle in a national primary.
Also interesting is the fact that the book is independently published. The campaign used CreateSpace, an independent publishing platform, to produce the paperback.
By contrast, businessman Donald Trump, one of the leaders in the GOP race, has a hardcover book called “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again,” due for release on Tuesday by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.