A little more than a week into becoming an official presidential candidate, Jeb Bush is sharpening his policy attacks against the left, attempting to underscore his own experience by drawing contrasts with the country’s top Democrats.
On Tuesday, Bush went after President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio by playing offense on two issues he wants to own: education and national security.
In an op-ed for the New York Post published Tuesday, Bush lambasted de Blasio over his high-profile fights with charter schools, accusing the mayor of “doing everything in his power” to deprive “low-income kids of the education they need to succeed.”
He was referring in part to de Blasio’s showdown last year with charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. The public dispute started after the mayor, citing spacing and financial concerns that he said could affect public school students, denied requests from some charter schools to use rent-free, unused public space.
But after sharp backlash, he ultimately decided to provide the free space, due in part from pressure by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who sided with the charter schools.
In the op-ed, Bush also hit Clinton, saying the Clintons “have an outsize influence in New York politics” and “have largely” defended the mayor. Bush did not state specifically how the Clintons have stood by de Blasio, though Bill Clinton reportedly advised de Blasio at the time on the charter school issue.
Although the mayor has longtime ties to Hillary Clinton – he helped run her 2000 Senate campaign in New York – he has yet to endorse her presidential run and did not attend her major campaign speech in New York earlier this month, sparking speculation of tension between the two.
Representatives for Clinton and de Blasio did not immediately return requests for comment on the op-ed.
While a number of Republican presidential candidates are staunch advocates for school choice, Bush is attempting to become the leading voice on the issue and make it a defining hallmark of his campaign.
He’s making the school voucher program he implemented as governor a key part of his presidential platform and has been a longtime supporter of Success Academy – the network of charter schools that fought with de Blasio – and stood by the organization during the battle last year.
The former governor frequently mentions in his stump speech the story of Denisha, an African-American woman who went to a private school as part of the Florida voucher system and became the first person in her family to graduate high school, then later college. She was featured in his presidential announcement video, and the campaign released an expanded version of her testimony on Tuesday.
But he has also faced public fights of his own over school-choice issues. A major provision of his voucher program, known as Opportunity Scholarship Program, was struck down in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court, which said the program was using state dollars to fund private schools, some of which were religious. (The program still provides vouchers to students in failing schools who want to attend higher performing public schools, but not private ones.)
Bush, however, also ushered in another program as governor that gives businesses tax credits for donating to nonprofit scholarship organizations that help send students to private schools. Still in place, that program is currently facing legal challenges from opponents.
As he’s pursued a presidential bid, Bush has also faced pushback from the right over his support for Common Core standards. In an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett Tuesday morning, Bush acknowledged that the standards have become so controversial that perhaps it’s necessary to omit the term “Common Core” from the education conversation altogether, something he’s readily done on the trail in recent months.
“Obviously that term – Common Core – is poisonous because it means different things to different people, which I respect,” he said. “But … I’ve not met someone that says, ‘hey give me lower standards’ or ‘let’s don’t have any accountability.’ That’s the common ground amongst Republicans and frankly amongst a lot of frustrated liberals as well.”
While Bush has gradually begun to take subtle digs at his Republican opponents in the presidential race, his comments on Tuesday showed that he’s fully on board with taking aim at Democrats, an approach that signals his strategy of focusing more on the general election than the Republican primary.
In the same interview, Bush harpooned the Obama administration on matters of national security, saying the head of the Office of Personnel Management – the government agency that recently experienced a massive cyberbreach allegedly at the hands of the Chinese government – should have been fired.
“If I was President of the United States, that person would be fired,” he said. “They did not follow up on the inspector general’s recommendations to tighten up security to create a stronger firewall.”
And on ISIS, Bush tore into Obama’s foreign policy, using strong rhetoric to blame the President and Clinton, the former secretary of state, for the unrest that has developed in Iraq after the U.S. withdrew its remaining combat troops four years ago.
“There’s no question that the President and Hillary Clinton have created a maddening situation where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives tragically,” he said. “But we’ve created such instability by the lack of involvement after we promised to do so, that we have to stick with it. I don’t think it’s going to take a generation, but we can’t expect this to happen in a week, either.”