For his long-awaited and much-overdue announcement as a presidential candidate, Jeb Bush ditched his coat and tie. He wore a blue button-down shirt, nondescript slacks and glasses. Bingo!
Seemingly a small thing, but it sent exactly the right message before Jeb even opened his mouth. His attire (and demeanor) immediately said, “I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work for this nomination, I can’t inherit it because my name is Bush. There is no divine right of kings or special consideration given for political dynasties in America.”
Eventually, of course, that's pretty much what he said: “Not one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family or family narrative. It's nobody's turn. It's everybody's test and it's wide open — exactly as a contest for president should be.” Hear, hear! It was a good moment in a very good speech. The best I've ever heard Jeb give.
The strangest I ever heard was at his second inauguration when he pointed to the surrounding state government buildings in Tallahassee and said he'd really be successful as governor only if they were all empty.
Downsizing government remains a big part of Bush's vision. Along with tax cuts, strengthening the military, growing the economy by four per cent annually, loosening government regulations, improving relations with Israel and other allies, stomping out the Islamic State, and pushing back against Putin. Also, safeguarding Social Security and Medicare, making school vouchers available everywhere, overhauling the VA, caring for the sick and disabled and giving everyone the “right to rise.”
When you string it all together like that it turns, collectively, into what Jeb calls a BHAG: A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Our country needs some BHAGs. We seem to have been playing small ball for quite awhile. Nibbling at the margins while terrorists stalk our borders, China eats our lunch and the Islamic State takes back land our brave men and women in uniform bought and paid for with their lives and sacred honor.
Bush's basic premise is this: The U.S. is a much better country than what we've shown the world lately. Let's make America great again.
Which is also the basic theme of Marco Rubio's campaign. I heard him deliver his basic stump speech last Saturday night to the Miami-Dade Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner, which pretty much turned into an endorsement party for the junior senator from West Miami. “The 20th century was the American century,” Rubio told the adoring crowd. “And with the right leadership and a new direction we can make the 21st another American century.”
Rubio is an exceptionally fine public speaker. At his best when he's winging it, not reading from a TelePrompter, which he wasn't the other night. But he doesn't need props to deliver his stump speech, which has some truly heart-tugging lines. “My father was a banquet bartender and stood behind a bar in the back of a room like this one so his son could stand behind the podium in the front.” Vah-voom!
Or how about, “My parents were never rich, but they were successful. They raised four children, gave them better lives than they had and achieved the American dream.” That's the point where Rubio asks, rhetorically, why such guarantees can't be made to the next generation. A good and pertinent question.
Rubio and Bush both see the world through the same basic conservative prism, just from slightly different perspectives. On education, for example, Rubio is no fan of the Common Core curriculum; Bush is. The former governor doesn’t care much like Obamacare but hasn't said repealing it would be high priority; it would be for Rubio. Both want meaningful immigration reform, but Rubio — stung by his authorship of a Senate plan rejected by the House and which angered the Tea Party — now wants to do it incrementally; Bush would do it in a grand scale. On climate change both men say the science isn't settled on whether it's caused by humans. Both decry the Charleston church massacre as horrific, but neither says stricter gun control laws are needed.
At the GOP event, Rubio was swarmed by admirers, including many current and former state lawmakers who served with him. Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebecca Sosa, who helped Rubio win his first elected position on the West Miami Commission, was also there to endorse him. Is he too young and inexperienced at 44 to be president? I asked. “You can be 70 and still not be experienced enough to be president,” she told me. “I believe Marco Rubio is ready to be president of the United States.” That certainly seemed to be the consensus in the packed room Saturday night. The crowd was predominantly but not exclusively white and Cuban American.
At Jeb's kick-off event, the crowd of about 3,500 was remarkably diverse with a heavy Hispanic presence. That was acknowledged by an opening medley of songs in Spanish and English by the three Chirino sisters, daughters of Willy and Lisette, who then came out and sang the national anthem. Ours (and theirs), not Cuba’s.
Curious, but Cuba has not figured prominently in the campaigns of either Bush or Rubio. They clearly disagree with the president's current Cuba initiative, but also understand the rest of the country either doesn't think about Cuba very much or, when it does, thinks bettering relations is a good idea.
Jeb was particularly forceful when, referring to President Obama, he said Cuba “doesn’t need a glorified tourist to go to Havana in support of a failed Cuba. We need an American president to go to Havana in solidarity with the Cuban people and I am ready to be that president.” That got a huge cheer from the audience. Rubio also got applause when he denounced Obama for making bad deals with Iran and Cuba.
If either candidate gets to the White House, expect U.S.-Cuba relations to once again deteriorate.
So we have two leading contenders for the White House from the same city. Can you ever remember that ever happening? Not in our lifetime. But it’s happening now with Bush and Rubio, who tied for first place this week in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
They're our native sons, hometown guys. Neither was born in Miami, but it's home. Even more curious, Jeb was Marco's political mentor and the two are genuine friends. They may not be by the time the Florida primary rolls around next March. Only the winner will move on.