Louis: Jeb Bush's family name and the GOP's tea party are obstacles in the way of his presidential campaign
Can he overcome the baggage attached to the Bush name and questions about his Republican ideological purity?
As the front-runner of a fractious pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, Jeb Bush finds himself facing two big challenges: Needing to capitalize on his family’s deep political connections without becoming captive to them and trying to win over a Republican Party that Bush himself has hinted may be too ideological to win national elections.
Oh, and along the way, he’ll also need to offer credible solutions to problems including the rise of ISIS, a sluggish economy that isn’t generating enough good jobs, a broken immigration system – and a gridlocked capital that makes finding common ground nearly impossible.
That’s a tall order, but at a raucous rally at a Miami community college, Bush pronounced himself up to the challenge.
“I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching and staying true to what I believe,” he told cheering supporters. “I will take nothing and no one for granted. I will run with heart. I will run to win. “
Winning the Republican nomination isn’t guaranteed. Bush’s effort to build a $100 million war chest didn’t scare other Republicans out of running – in fact, it didn’t even stop a fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, from announcing a run for president.
“He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush” said Sen. John McCain, who is supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for president. McCain was referring to Bush’s recent fumbled, roundabout responses to the question of whether his brother’s invasion of Iraq was, in retrospect, a mistake.
McCain’s comment reflects the reality is that Bush must juggle the benefits and burdens of being the son of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, and the brother of George W. Bush, the 43rd.
On the benefit side: Bush can instantly tap into three generations of Republican elected officials, donors, field organizers and intellectuals who were loyal to either or both of the past Bush administrations.
On the burden side, Bush is associated with the missteps of those past administrations. Both Bush presidencies included sending American troops into costly, controversial wars in the Persian Gulf. At his campaign announcement, one of Jeb Bush’s first pledges was to rev the economy up to a level of 4% growth – an idea featured prominently on the website of the George W. Bush Institute and a reminder of who was in the White House when the economic crash of 2008 happened.
All in all, it’s much better to be Bush than almost anybody else in the Republican field: at this stage of the game, cash and contacts are king.
Expect Bush to take a page from Mitt Romney’s 2012 playbook and use his fundraising advantage to mount devastating attacks on any Republicans who threaten his position at the front of the pack. If history is any guide, Bush has an excellent chance of riding his $100 million super PAC to a primary victory.
As for the baggage that comes with being part of the most prominent family in American poltics, Jeb Bush’s short-term answer to the dilemma is to subtly signal independence from his father and brother – neither was present at his announcement, and his campaign icon “Jeb!” conveniently leaves the famous last name unsaid – while emphasizing his unique personal story and political success as a successful two-term governor of Florida.
A burst of fluent Spanish showed off Bush’s marriage to a Mexican-born wife, Columba, as did a heartfelt speech by their biracial son, George P. Bush, who is the Texas land commissioner.
“He is the new America. He is the new Republican Party,” is how State Sen. Don Gaetz, a lawmaker from Florida’s conservative Panhandle, described Bush at the rally. “Before Jeb Bush, Republicans never won control [of both the governor’s mansion and both houses in the legislature]. Since Jeb Bush, Republicans have never lost control.”
That’s a powerful argument that even the most conservative Republican partisans will have to respect. Bush’s political success in the largest swing state gives him the authority to push back against the tea party wing of his party.
“Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way,” he said in a speech last year. “I’m not being critical of my party, but campaigns themselves are reflective of this new America.”
And where did he speak those words describing a possible Republican path to the White House? In College Station, Texas, at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.