Politics

Jeb Bush says he’ll 'actively explore' 2016 presidential run

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at a campaign event for the republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the University of Miami, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Coral Gables.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at a campaign event for the republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the University of Miami, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Coral Gables. El Nuevo Herald File

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is basically running for president now, giving him instant frontrunner status and implicitly pressuring other Republicans to decide whether to run for the White House against him in 2016.

“I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States,” the Republican said on Facebook and Twitter Tuesday morning.

“In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation,” Bush wrote. “The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.”

Though the political action committee will help support others, its prime beneficiary is Bush and his presidential ambitions.

Bush, 61, didn’t explicitly say he’s definitely running, but the PAC is the clearest sign yet that an official announcement is likely a formality. The committee tells donors, activists and the general public that Bush is serious about a 2016 presidential bid.

“The big institutional donors of the Republican Party want to know where to put their money, and Jeb has now shown them where,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant from Tallahassee.

For months, as Bush hinted he would run, high-level Republican donors and fundraisers who backed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign started wondering if Bush would run. So they tried to recruit Romney, which helped pressure Bush into this decision, Wilson speculated.

Bush’s announcement, his backers hope, will quiet the talk of a Romney resurrection.

A national McClatchy-Marist poll released Monday showed Romney would likely lead a crowded GOP field with 19 percent of the theoretical Republican vote. Bush received 14 percent support. Without Romney in the race, Bush would be the national frontrunner with 16 percent support.

But regardless of whether the GOP’s nominee was Bush Romney or someone else, the McClatchy-Marist poll and others have indicated that the Democrats’ likely nominee, Hillary Clinton, would defeat each by about 12 percentage points.

A Clinton-Bush matchup would be a historic oddity. In 1992, Bush’s father lost to Clinton’s husband. Today, polling indicates, former President Bill Clinton is better-liked by voters than Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush. The families are friends and Jeb Bush in 2013 was tapped to give Hillary Clinton an award at a ceremony.

Aside from Romney, Bush’s decision puts pressure on his protégé, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie, the outgoing head of the Republican Governors Association, said last month during a Boca Raton RGA meeting that he’d make a decision as well. Close to Wall Street and once a favorite of the so-called “Romney money” class of donors, Christie’s political star dimmed earlier this year in the wake of a scandal over bridge construction in his home state. That led more supporters of the Republican establishment to court Bush. The McClatchy-Marist poll showed Christie earning just 9 or 10 percent of the theoretical Republican vote.

Rubio said last week he’d make his intentions known soon and that his decision would be independent of what his “friend” Bush does.

Rubio earned between 3 and 6 percent support in the McClatchy-Marist poll and would likely lose Florida to Bush in a multi-candidate GOP primary or in a head-to-head matchup, according to a Saint Leo University Polling Institute online survey released last week. The Saint Leo poll showed Bush and Rubio had the best shot of beating Clinton in Florida, which a Republican candidate needs to win in order to carry the White House.

Of the major potential GOP candidates, Bush and Rubio are the only ones who speak Spanish and who support comprehensive immigration reform — two key attributes that could help attract Hispanic voters, the fastest growing major segment of the electorate.

Generally, presidential campaigns expose a fault line between establishment candidates, like Bush, and potential candidates who excite grassroots activists such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has dropped hints he’ll run. Cruz is an outspoken opponent for legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants, which he calls “amnesty.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he might run as well, which could split the Lone Star State’s major factions between the senator, the governor and Bush, whose brother was governor of the state and whose son was just elected to the statewide office of Land Commissioner.

In Republican races, the establishment candidate often wins out. But this election could be different

“The establishment candidate needs total control of the donor class,” Wilson said, predicting trouble for Bush in the GOP primary due to his support for immigration reform and the Common Core Educational Standards that some conservatives have bashed as federal overreach or “Obamacore.”

One former Common Core supporter who migh run for president, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, has started to criticize the standards. But Bush hasn’t, and tea partiers have taken note. Some are calling him a moderate.

Jason Hoyt, a Central Florida tea party leader, reacted this way to Bush’s announcement: “Jeb Bush, the man who promotes Common Core in spite of a Republican National Committee resolution against it, and who awarded Hillary Clinton the National Constitution Center’s ‘Liberty Medal’ on the eve of the first anniversary after Benghazi? I’m not interested in his candidacy and will never support it, even if he wins the primary.”

Earlier this month at a Wall Street Journal forum, Bush suggested he was expecting that type of response from some. Bush said he wouldn’t try to run to the right for the GOP primary and then tack back to the center in a general election. He said a candidate needs to be “much more willing to…lose the primary to win the general [election] without violating your principles.”

Bush’s record as governor from 1999-2007 shows he was far more conservative than many might realize. Bush cut as much as $14 billion in taxes, eliminated a stocks-and-bonds tax, pushed for anti-abortion legislation, inserted himself in the nationally watched Terri Schiavo euthanasia case, expanded gun rights, signed tough-on-crime laws, privatized state services, fought teacher unions, expanded the school-choice voucher movement and tried to reform Medicaid long before it became a flash-point in the nation’s debate over health insurance.

Bush also vetoed so much in spending that he once joked he was a Godfather-like “Veto Corleone” who would “whack” budget line items.

“As Florida governor, Jeb was a partisan extremist,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said in a statement Tuesday. “As Jeb explores a run for president, Americans are going to learn that he’s always fought for the wealthy special interests and those at the top like him, while letting the middle class suffer.”

Despite all the tax-and-spend cutting, the Florida budget grew under Bush — largely because he occupied the governor’s mansion during a national boom time. Overall, bottom-line spending increased nearly 46 percent in his eight years in office, growing from nearly $48.9 billion to about $71.3 billion.

Bush left office just as the economy, along with Florida’s budget, started to crater. He said he was looking forward to going back to work to increase his wealth; his net worth had fallen from about $2 million to $1.3 million in 2007.

Bush’s various business ventures, including his involvement in private-equity deals, are sure to provide fodder for political opponents in the same way that Romney’s time at Bain Capital was used to criticize him as a modern-day Monopoly Man. A Bloomberg story last week about Bush’s finances bore the headline “Jeb Bush has a Mitt Romney problem.” The story reported that Bush had created at least three multi-million dollar private equity funds through his Coral Gables company, Britton Hill Holdings.

In a Sunday sitdown television interview with Miami’s WPLG Local 10, Bush lauded Romney’s private-sector experience and said he found any comparison with Romney “flattering. I’ll take it as a compliment on one level.” Bush said Romney’s big fault was falling off-message by failing to tout his experience.

“Mitt probably didn’t defend an incredible success story,” Bush said. Of his business ventures, Bush said, “I’m not ashamed of that at all. I think that practical experience is something might be useful in Washington DC... where it’s all in this bubble.”

Bush said his biggest obstacle in deciding whether to run was the effect it would have on his family. Specifically, his supporters say, Bush doesn’t want too much focus on his daughter, Noelle, who struggled with drug addiction while he was governor. Bush’s wife of 40 years, Columba, is also a private person.

“She’s a normal person. So she’s not a political wife or a political spouse,” Bush told WPLG. “She doesn’t wake up reading Politico.com or something like that.”

Bush said he also has to decide if he has “what it takes” to run for president. He said he doesn’t want to get sucked into the “vortex” of negativity that characterizes today’s campaigns.

That comment indicates how Bush understands how today’s electronic media and constant news cycle has changed the face of campaigns since he last ran for office successfully in 2002.

The son and brother of a president, Bush is also well aware that there’s no more-brutal vetting process than running for president. Old stories become new again, skeletons are unearthed from closets.

To help shape his own narrative, Bush announced Sunday that he’s writing an e-Book and releasing a trove of 250,000 emails from his time as governor. While governor, Bush emphasized using technology in government, and he made sure his official portrait in the Florida Capitol displayed his Blackberry, which he jokingly called a “Crack berry.”

“I was digital before digital was cool, now it’s commonplace,” Bush told WPLG-10.

That decision was the last in a long line of unofficial signs he was planning to seek the White House. In the months leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, Bush started losing weight. His proxies began reaching out to operatives and donors to form the backbone of a campaign team.

And Bush made sure his closely watched speeches sounded like presidential-campaign speeches.

At the Wall Street Journal event earlier this month, Bush ticked off five domestic-policy issues he wanted to tackle. The following day, at a U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC fundraiser in Coral Gables, Bush gave a seven-point foreign-policy speech.

On Monday, Bush gave a commencement address in South Carolina, one of the three early primary or caucus states. Bush dropped a few hints about the upcoming presidential race during that speech. In Sunday’s WPLG-10 interview, Bush gave little indication that he would announce the formation of his political action committee this week.

“I have no idea if I would be a good candidate,” Bush said. “I hope I would be.”

Jeb Bush’s Facebook post

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Like many of you, our family was blessed with the opportunity to gather together over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

Columba and I are so proud of the wonderful adults our children have become, and we loved spending time with our three precious grandchildren.

We shared good food and watched a whole lot of football.

We also talked about the future of our nation. As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.

In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.

In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.

Best wishes to you and your families for a happy holiday season. I’ll be in touch soon.

Onward,

Jeb Bush

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