Repeat after Jeb Bush: He is not angry. Not even a tiny bit.
Florida’s Republican former governor is happy — joyful even. And campaigning throughout Orlando Monday the merriest of presidential candidates reminded supporters over and over again that he is nothing like some of his churlish counterparts in the GOP primary.
“Here’s the deal: I don’t have anger in my heart,” he told about 200 people at a community center in Maitland Monday evening. “We shouldn’t be scolding people. We shouldn’t be saying outrageous things that turns people off to the conservative message.”
“I’m not a grievance candidate,” he told more than 150 fans in Longwood, warning that the race was sure to be a long one and poll numbers would rise and fall. “I’m the tortoise in the race — but I’m a joyful tortoise.”
And in Longwood, after predicting his “hopeful, optimistic message” would win him strong support among Hispanic voters, he chided former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for having compared the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement to the Holocaust.
“We need to tone down the rhetoric,” Bush said. “The use of that kind of language is just wrong. This is not the way we’re going to win elections.”
At a time when Donald Trump is drowning out most of the other Republican candidates calling rivals idiots and losers, Bush appears perfectly content to come off as a different kind of Republican candidate.
As governor from 1999 to 2007, Bush may have shown little patience for people who disagreed with him and rarely worked with Democrats in Tallahassee. But would-be President Jeb Bush sounded like he would be the model of consensus-building and reaching across the aisle.
He agrees with Nancy Pelosi on next to nothing, but “give me an hour, and I bet I could” find something they agree on.
“Aren’t you tired of the gridlock in Washington, D.C.? I know how to do this. Because I was a reform-minded governor who got things done in a very purple state: Florida,” Bush said.
The day underscored Bush’s longstanding commitment to campaign in the primary just as he would in the general election, rather than following the typical path of campaigning on the right in a GOP primary and then veering to the middle after winning the nomination.
Even his schedule this week, campaigning amid heavily Hispanic crowds in Central Florida on Monday and then speaking to the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, highlighted Bush’s efforts to run a nationwide general election-type campaign from the start. The only other Republican attending that event is surgeon Ben Carson.
“We have to campaign all across this country with joy in our heart, not anger, and go to places where Republicans haven’t been seen in a long, long while,” said Bush, 62.
He began the day at Orlando’s Centro Internacional de la Famila church, joined by his wife Columba and daughter Noelle. The largely Hispanic crowd welcomed him enthusiastically, and Bush talked up his support for Puerto Rican statehood — an issue that divides many Puerto Ricans and Republicans — and his support for giving undocumented immigrants in America a pathway to legal status or citizenship, a position many Republicans oppose.
“The idea of self-deportation or the idea of rounding up people is not an American value,” Bush said, self-deportation being a term Mitt Romney used in suggesting the illegal immigrants would leave on their own if it became increasingly difficult to stay.
The number of Hispanic voters in Florida is growing steadily and has become increasingly Democratic, but Bush said he can reverse that trend. Exit polls showed Romney won just 39 percent of Florida’s Hispanic vote in 2012, while 10 years earlier Bush received 57 percent in his reelection campaign for governor.
“I have a secret weapon,” he said, pointing to his wife Columba. “I have Hispanic children, I have Hispanic grandchildren. I’m part of the community … I cannot imagine having the same kind of numbers [with Hispanic voters] that Republicans have had in past presidential elections. I think I can do better.”
That largely moderate, consensus-building message was well received among invited guests.
“So far he’s the most balanced out of all the candidates. He’s getting closer to the middle,” said Carlos Thillet of Orlando.
In Maitland, novelist and lawyer Terry Griffin spoke of Bush’s intellect, confidence and willingness to work with Democrats.
“You’ve got to work across the aisle. Look at how much Ronald Reagan was able to do, working with Tip O’Neill,” said Griffin, a former state GOP general counsel, referring to the former U.S. House Speaker.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Adam Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.