In officially declaring his candidacy for the White House on Monday, former Gov. Jeb Bush at last ended the “Will-he-or-won’t-he?” charade of the past few months that allowed him to take advantage of loopholes in election laws to raise extraordinary amounts of money while pretending not to be a real candidate.
As a former two-term governor of Florida whose tenure is generally regarded as successful, Mr. Bush brings to the race an enviable level of experience. Combined with the Bush name and his popularity and good standing among Republican Party stalwarts across the country, it gives him the kind of stature that confers legitimacy to his campaign in a way that no other GOP candidate can match.
This does not mean that he will not have to work, and work hard, to win the nomination in the grueling primaries, however.
Many political observers consider Mr. Bush the frontrunner at this early stage, but that just makes him a bigger target for an upset by his rivals in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.
It also sets him up for criticism in the unfair “expectations” game.
Thus, some reports have called his pre-campaign a failure because his presence did not discourage others from jumping into the race — we doubt that was ever in the cards — and because he may have failed to raise $100 million by now, which conveniently ignores the fact that he has probably won the money sweepstakes anyway.
The Bush name has advantages, but it also carries baggage that the candidate had trouble dealing with when he stumbled in dealing with questions over the Iraq invasion. Mr. Bush is most certainly not his brother, as he has repeatedly said, but skeptics have yet to be won over. It doesn’t help that some of his policy advisers figured prominently among those close to former President George W. Bush.
Experience in office counts in his favor. Certainly the fiasco of the current legislative session under Gov. Rick Scott would not have occurred during his tenure. Mr. Bush used GOP majorities in the Legislature to enact his Republican agenda efficiently, but was not afraid to wield the veto pen, especially when it came to spending.
Mr. Bush was a proven vote-getter and left office with a high approval rating. But the firestorm over the Terry Schiavo case raised questions about his judgment that many voters have doubtless not forgotten. The same goes for his record on limiting voter access to the ballot box, among other issues.
The larger challenge for the former governor is making all his obvious strengths count with Republican voters across the country. Many party veterans feel he has the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton for the White House, a perception that has helped him raise money, but first he has to get the nomination.
The warmth of his reception on Monday at Miami Dade College reflects a genuine affection for Florida’s (and Miami’s) adopted native son. But speaking Spanish is unlikely to win him a lot of support in the Iowa caucuses.
In the end, Mr. Bush will have to make his case on the basis of his ideas, and he already has a good start. He has vowed not to stray from his principled stands on education (support for Common Core) and immigration (pro-reform).
This is likely to win him support among moderates and serve him in good stead if and when he wins the nomination and makes history by becoming the third member of his family to run for the highest office in the land.