On the eve of his official launch into the 2016 presidential race, Jeb Bush has one thing going for him: money. The former Florida governor has raised something approaching $100 million – far more than his Republican rivals, declared or pondering. He’s also ahead of the pack in most opinion polls.
Aside from that, most political analysis puts his position as not nearly as strong as it might be given his experience, mainstream GOP support, and name recognition.
“Other than raising the money, little has gone as he had hoped,” Jonathan Martin and Patrick Healy wrote in The New York Times over the weekend. “He has been torn between defending and distancing himself from George W. Bush, been unable to assuage party activists uneasy with his immigration and education views, and run into a wall of opposition on the right,”
Or as the AP’s Steve Peoples and Julie Bykowicz put it: “He has failed to scare any potential rival from the race, except perhaps 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. He is unpopular among some of his party's most passionate voters and little known beyond his home state despite the Bush name.”
Like Hillary Clinton, Bush is a well-known member of a well-known political family who now feels the need to reintroduce himself to the American voting public.
In one campaign video ahead of Monday’s announcement, Bush strikes a “compassionate conservative” theme, sounding more like Mrs. Clinton than – say – Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, or Marco Rubio. Floridians tell about how, as governor, he helped them with deep, personal issues – domestic violence, employment, developmental disability, education.
"The barriers right now on people rising up is the great challenge of our time," Bush says in the video. "So many people could do so much better if we fixed a few things. My core beliefs start with the premise that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line, not the back. And as governor, I had a chance to act on that core belief."
The extent to which the family name is a help or a hindrance is not totally clear.
“My life story is different,” he said on CNN Sunday. “I don’t have to disassociate myself from my family, I love them, but I know that for me to be successful I’m going to have to show my heart and tell my story.”
It’s probably not significant that his campaign logo is a simple “Jeb!” Nobody is likely to forget that he’s the son and brother of former presidents.
As Martin and Healy write, “Mr. Bush still faces fundamental challenges in appealing to a Republican primary electorate that is much different from the one his father or even his brother faced – a party no longer willing to automatically anoint the pragmatic, well-financed, establishment-aligned candidate that the Bush name personifies.”
The Washington Post obtained the talking points Bush aides are circulating among surrogates likely to speak on the candidate’s behalf.
Among the talking points: “create 19 million new jobs…. disrupt the broken Washington culture that has been good for lobbyists in D.C. but left the rest of America behind…. Our enemies no longer fear us, and our friends no longer trust us. It’s time we re-engage and stand with our allies.”
Bush is scheduled to officially launch his presidential bid Monday afternoon at Miami Dade College.
Later this week, according to the talking points memo, “He will travel to New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina following the speech and then Nevada the following week.”
“I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say, for sure, and prior to this trip," he told reporters the other day during a trip to Germany, Poland, and Estonia. "I hope that the message will be a hopeful, optimistic one. It won't dwell too much on the past. I will talk about why it is important to change directions. I will talk a little bit about, hopefully, the leadership skills that are necessary to solve problems."
"I had the opportunity as governor of a state where a lot of things happened. Some people liked them. Some people didn’t. But there’s no question, you ask friend and foe alike, that Florida was changed by my leadership, and I think it changed for the better," Bush said. "And so I’ll talk about that. And there will be some lines of good humor as well, I hope."