Over and over again, Jeb Bush has said he’s still thinking about whether to run for president.
But for half a sentence Wednesday, Bush let on it’s a decision he’s already made. And he’s in the race for the White House.
Talking with reporters after a town hall in Reno, Nevada, the former Florida governor said, “I’m running for president in 2016 and the focus is going to be about how we, if I run, how do you create high sustained economic growth.”
Bush noted several times in the same conversation he is still thinking about whether to run and caught himself before ending the sentence in which he said he was running by adding that caveat. Earlier in the same exchange, when asked about his brother, former President George W. Bush, he said, “If I run, it will be 2016, not 2000.”
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But the caveat is important. It’s one Bush has uttered countless times since January, traveling to early-voting and battleground states and meeting voters. It’s what has allowed him to raise limitless money to fuel a super PAC expected to complement his campaign once he officially announces his candidacy.
Bush’s team had nothing to say about his slip.
Once a White House hopeful launches a formal campaign, he or she can no longer coordinate activities with a super PAC. That’s why people who are running a presidential campaign in all but name hold off on declaring their intentions until the time suits them – even as they make speeches, meet donors and undertake other activities that are clearly the work of a presidential contender.
Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, is expected, under the guidance of longtime adviser Mike Murphy, to conduct many of the functions a candidate’s campaign would – but without coordination with Bush or the federal contribution limits that go with a campaign.
At the event in Reno, the former Florida governor again refused to say whether he would have proceeded with the 2003 invasion of Iraq if he’d been in brother and former President George W. Bush’s shoes. Anyone in hindsight “would have made different decisions,” he told reporters. “There is no denying that. But to delve into that and not focus on the future, I think is where I need to draw the line.”
Pressed by a voter at the town hall-style meeting about the war, Bush said: “Talking about the future is more than fair. Talking about the past, saying how would you have done something after the fact is a little tougher, and it doesn’t necessarily change anything.”
Bush later noted that such voter encounters stand in contrast to what he described as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“You can’t script your way to the presidency, put yourself in a protective bubble and never interact with people – only talk with people that totally agree with you,” Bush said. “That’s not going to work. That’s not very sincere.”
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.