Jeb Bush once said he would run for president only if he could do it “joyfully.”
On Monday, Mr. Bush gave America his answer, announcing his candidacy for president before an enthusiastic crowd at Miami Dade College, including Bush family matriarch Barbara Bush, other family members, leaders of the Florida Republican establishment, a large Latino contingent, and well-wishers waving “Jeb!” signs.
“I will run with heart,” said Bush, a former Republican governor of Florida and the son and brother of former presidents. “And I will run to win.”
Bush’s announcement event also made clear that outreach to Latino voters will be central to his campaign. Before Bush took the stage, speaker after speaker – including his oldest child, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush – addressed the diverse crowd in a mix of English and Spanish.
Jeb Bush, too, delivered several lines of his announcement speech in Spanish, demonstrating his fluency and conveying his message of “oportunidad para todos” – opportunity for all. The Republican Party has little chance of retaking the presidency without significantly boosting Latino support. Now, with both Bush and fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio declared as candidates, the battle has been joined. Senator Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, also speaks Spanish fluently.
“In any language,” Bush said in English, “my message will be an optimistic one because I am certain that we can make the decades just ahead the greatest time ever to be alive in the world.”
Bush acknowledged the large field of candidates, and then offered assurances – as he has done many times since he began “exploring” a campaign (i.e., raising money) – that he takes nothing for granted.
“Not a one of us deserves this job by right of résumé, party, seniority, family, or family narrative,” he said. “It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open – exactly as a contest for president should be.”
Indeed, on the Republican side, the race for the nomination is wide open. And as things stand now, the general election looks set to be a close contest.
Bush offered no discouraging words for his Republican competitors, but chided Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton more than once.
“The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election,” Bush said, alluding to former Secretary of State Clinton’s large lead in the Democratic nomination race.
On policy, Bush went after Clinton over religious freedom, which has been at issue both in President Obama’s health-care reform and in the swift rise of same-sex marriage.
“Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary those beliefs, quote, 'have to be changed,' ” Bush said. “That’s what she said, and I guess we should at least thank her for the warning.”
Bush also accused the Obama administration of conducting a “phone-it-in foreign policy,” in which “the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling.”
Bush also criticized Mr. Obama’s diplomatic opening to Cuba, a big hit with Bush’s Miami audience, which included more than a few Cuban-Americans.
On the economy, Bush promised 4 percent growth and 19 million new jobs.
“We will get back on the side of free enterprise and free people,” he said. “I know we can fix this. Because I’ve done it.”
Bush served as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, and touted his record, including a net gain of 1.3 million new jobs – the most of any state during that period – and 4.4 percent growth.
Bush was also known for his education advocacy as governor, including the introduction of private-school vouchers for students in low-performing public schools, expanded charter schools, and test-based accountability for students and teachers.
He didn’t mention his support for the Common Core education standards, which are state-driven but highly unpopular among social conservatives. But Bush did address the issue: “Every school should have high standards, and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them.”
Bush also took a bow to his other controversial policy view, his support for comprehensive immigration reform, including legal status for undocumented immigrants.
“By the way, just so that our friends know, the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved, not by executive order,” Bush said, a dig at Obama.
But the most touching moments of his speech came when he talked about his family, beginning with the story of how he met his future wife, Columba, while he was a high school exchange student in Mexico.
“Across a plaza, I saw a girl,” Bush said. “She spoke only a little English. My Spanish was OK, but really not that good. With some intensive study we got that barrier out of the way in a hurry.
“In the short version, it's been a gracious walk through the years with the former Columba Garnica de Gallo.”
Bush’s mother, Barbara, also got a couple of shout-outs.
“Mom, can you ask them to sit down please?” Bush said at the top when he tried to settle the crowd.
Later he asked the crowd to “please say hello to my mom, Barbara Bush.”
Two years ago, Mrs. Bush declared that “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House. But when her second son made serious noises about running, she changed her tune. On Monday, her dignified presence in the raucous crowd in Miami spoke volumes.