If the 2016 presidential campaign was boiled down to a fable, Jeb Bush’s would be the one about the tortoise and the hare, and he would be the tortoise – slow, steady and ultimately, the winner.
In conversations with multiple Bush advisers and confidantes in the run up to his official White House launch Monday, a singular theme emerges from inside his close-knit world: Patience.
Team Bush seems to say it as much to remind themselves, as they do the pundit and donor classes. They know patience is not an easy watch-word when today’s politics moves at warp speed.
“It doesn’t happen in a day,” said Al Cardenas, Bush’s long time friend who will serve as a senior adviser on his presidential campaign.
Perhaps pleading for patience is a sign that Bush is too old school to succeed in this insta-world of immediate gratification and results. Or, as his advisers insist, it’s proof that he’s the adult in the room who can see beyond the here and the now – not just for his own fate, but for the country.
“We all cover this kind of in the here and now, and who’s winning and who’s losing is important, and I respect that,” Bush told reporters in Germany this week.
“But if you have a strategy, and you think about it over the long haul, is the better approach at least for me,” he said.
Regardless, being the tortoise not the hare reveals a reality inside Bush world as he prepares to make his candidacy official: he’s not going to run away with a quick and easy path to the Republican presidential nomination. Not even close.
His failure to pull ahead in the polls, much less scare any of his more than dozen potential competitors away from running makes that fact painfully obvious.
And then, there’s the calendar. Bush aides are not playing the typical lowering expectations game when warning they might not win in early contest states. It’s not being coy – it’s a real challenge.
The first caucus state of Iowa is more obvious fertile ground for a Midwestern governor, like Scott Walker, or another candidate running as a social conservative who can also appeal to the desire for an outsider.
Advisers say they see their best first shot at winning in New Hampshire, but the Bush family – both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush - had mixed results in that primary over the years.
They feel their best bet is on the long game, gobbling up delegates during big multi-state contest days later in 2016.
The only way to test that premise is to be prepared to settle in for the long haul with money and manpower – which Bush advisers say they have done.
“Since Eisenhower, every single nominee that the party has come up with is the nominee who has had the best resources and the best organization and so far that’s Jeb Bush,” Cardenas said.
“I consider Jeb Bush the favorite to win this thing just because we hit every mark that every other successful nominee has hit, and in a more significant way than any other candidate,” he added.
To bolster that – especially the fundraising part of the equation – not only will the Bush team release record money totals for his Super Pac and pac in the coming weeks – they are also working to raise big dollars for his actual presidential campaign as soon as it starts Monday– which is much harder to do because of limits.
Bush’s finance director has already asked bundlers – donors who help coordinate and raise money from other donors – to raise $27,000 between Monday and the end of the month.
Bush advisers say to expect an announcement speech Monday that reflects the only kind of campaign he said he would run when launching his exploratory phase in December, and that is an optimistic one.
Those close to the former Florida Governor say he has made clear internally that he will play hardball politics when necessary, but he won’t set a scare tactic tone from the stump, even though he admits it may make it easier to get some GOP votes.
“I kind of know what my job is, it’s to develop a message that’s hopeful and optimistic about the future of the country, to develop ideas that will give people a sense that they can lift up, and to tell them about my leadership skills to make it so,” Bush told reporters here in Europe.
Bush aides privately admit that, after being out of politics and public office for 9 years, it has taken some time for him to shake off the rust. Several days of stumbles last month on what should have been a well-rehearsed answer on the Iraq war his brother started, was the starkest example.
But getting polished again politically has been a work in progress in less extreme ways as well – like finding his own patience with voters in town hall settings asking him off the wall questions - the kind candidates who slog through Iowa and New Hampshire either become so used to it helps them succeed, or disdain so much it comes through and makes it hard to connect.
Still, Bush confidantes insist many of those “what are they talking about” moments on the trail are actually an intellectual rush for Bush, a self-described policy wonk who likes a good chance to spar about ideas.
On this five-day trip to Europe, Bush – who is known for flashes of impatience and being stubborn, has shown he is getting more practiced at the happy warrior thing.
Through three countries in five days, meetings with world leaders and interactions with the American press traveling with him, he has been staying on message – seeming to enjoy not only private discussions, but also playing tourist (something his brother, George W. Bush, famously had little patience for and did not do much when traveling as president).
Become Jeb, not just another Bush
Inside his Florida headquarters, they know one of the biggest challenges Jeb Bush still faces is his last name. Sources admit one of his biggest hurdles will be making voters see him as Jeb, not just another Bush.
“It’s going to take a while for voters to get beyond the Bush identity to a Jeb identity,” admits Cardenas, not just a close friend of Jeb’s, but the entire Bush clan.
In fact, Bush advisers say he hasn’t been able to pull ahead of the pack because of his name, not despite of it.
They insist comparisons to George W. Bush in 2000, when he was able to clear the field by building a big war chest and locking up talented staff early, are unfair – because the Bush name was a plus back then. At that time there was a bit of GOP nostalgia for his father, George H. W. Bush, who was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992.
Now, in the 2016 election cycle, the Bush name for many Republicans means big spending and government bailouts. Nevermind that it is the ultimate establishment dynasty – at a time when even unaffiliated GOP strategists say there is a clear yearning for an outsider.
What staff shakeup?
Bush confidantes both inside and outside the campaign insist the buzz about internal turmoil and squabbling – prompted largely by his sudden decision to replace his campaign manager and move him into a senior adviser role – is way overblown.
They argue that what Bush said publicly isn’t spin, it’s actually true – now that as he got to know these men and what their strengths are, he realized they would be better off moved around.
But that does speak to another Bush challenge unique among most other top tier candidates. Despite being an established political presence, he has been out of the game for nearly a decade and is forming a campaign team from scratch.
Unlike most of his competitors who are currently in office and have political operatives and policy aides around they know and feel comfortable with, Bush only has a small but fiercely loyal kitchen cabinet led by long time aide Sally Bradshaw, and includes GOP consultant Mike Murphy, who will run Bush’s Super Pac, which means, by law, as of Monday the two will not be able to talk political strategy.
A challenge for Bush going forward is expanding his circle and extending trust and confidence in new people.
Al Cardenas is in that small circle of old friends. He says he has wanted Bush to run president for years, and that Monday will be emotional for him, and for Jeb Bush himself.
“He’s spent a lot of time thinking about this – a good chunk of 2014. – He’s been traveling the country and making sure if he did this he could do it in a positive way and that he could find a structure where his message can get across, and I believe he’s confident he has done that and can do that,” Cardenas said.