Establishment Republicans across the country could sleep soundly last night after former Florida governor Jeb Bush officially announced his candidacy for president. His strong and sometimes fiery speech felt as though it was intended to address the concern that he doesn’t really have the fire in the belly needed to sustain a presidential campaign.
Delivered in Miami, his hometown, Bush’s remarks were less those of a presumptive heir to the presidency – Bush’s father and brother having held the office – than those of a challenger facing an uphill battle against an anointed Democratic successor to President Barack Obama.
Bush went directly after that candidate, skipping his opponents in the Republican primary, by directly criticizing Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination next year, on both U.S. foreign policy during her time as Secretary of State, and on conservative social issues, which he championed as Florida’s governor.
A devout Roman Catholic, Bush highlighted (and slightly misrepresented) remarks Clinton made about women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
“Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary those beliefs, quote, ‘have to be changed.’ That’s what she said, and I guess we should at least thank her for the warning.”
He also name-checked the top Democratic candidate in a critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
“From the beginning, our president and his foreign-policy team have been so eager to be the history makers that they have failed to be the peacemakers,” he said. “With their phone-it-in foreign policy, the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling.”
Bush’s remarks stood in sharp contrast to Clinton’s announcement, delivered only 48 hours before, in which she made a number of concrete policy proposals, touching on student loans, childcare, and other issues. And in which she mentioned the names of her opponents, Republican or Democratic, not at all.
In fact, there was a lot of red meat in the speech Bush delivered Monday, and not a whole lot of policy suggestions. Of course, he offered plenty of vague promises to, for example, “lift our sights again, make opportunity common again, get events in the world moving our way again.”
He even promised to make 4 percent annual economic growth the norm in the U.S., something that seems pretty close to unattainable in the near-to-medium term, despite his claim that there is “no reason in the world” why it couldn’t be achieved.
He didn’t offer a whole lot of specifics about how he would make that happen. But that’s not actually surprising. The presidential map for Republicans is a tough one, and the GOP’s candidates start off as underdogs, who need to knock down their Democratic opponent more than they need to deliver policy-heavy stem-winders.
The Bush campaign also created the sense, for those watching the speech on television, of a far more engaged and raucous crowd than the one that attended the Clinton announcement on Saturday. In an enclosed space at Miami-Dade College, Bush was often forced to stop speaking because the chants of the crowd threatened to drown him out.
Interestingly, he was also interrupted by pro-immigration protesters pushing for a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. The Bush campaign had plainly meant to avoid the issue entirely in the speech, because it’s an area in which the former governor’s position doesn’t quite mesh with that of the GOP base.
Bush handled the interruption deftly, but in doing so promised the protestors that as president he would support a comprehensive immigration reform bill – something that has been tearing the GOP apart in slow motion for years, and which the campaign had plainly meant to leave on the sidelines Monday.
Because the question of entitlement is something that will likely dog him throughout the campaign, Bush dealt with it directly. Acknowledging the burgeoning GOP field of contenders, he said, “[N]ot 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.”
On Monday, though, he seemed more interested in making it a contest between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton than between Jeb Bush and the other Republican candidates for president.
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