'Onward': What Jeb Bush's campaign message says about 2016

Jeb Bush wrote on Facebook that he is actively exploring a possible presidential run, and signed off with 'Onward, Jeb Bush.' He is pitching himself as a man of the future – despite having a last name that conjures the past.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Jeb Bush listens before speaking at the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington on Nov. 20. On Tuesday, the former Florida governor took his most definitive step yet toward running for president, announcing plans to 'actively explore' a campaign.

Jeb Bush is one step closer to getting in – or, as he put it on Facebook Tuesday, he’s now “actively” exploring “the possibility of running” for president. The former Florida governor – and the brother and son of former presidents – also said he’s forming a leadership PAC, or political action committee, in January.  

It was Mr. Bush’s clearest expression of intent yet about 2016, though in fact we already knew that he was openly considering a presidential campaign. The leadership PAC will serve as a fundraising and networking vehicle, allowing Bush to cement ties to other Republicans around the country by donating to their campaigns.

The statement is certain to light a fire under other likely Republican candidates, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. It also takes us one step closer to the possibility of another Bush vs. Clinton presidential campaign, as Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares for a presumed second run.  

But perhaps most interesting about Tuesday’s announcement was the signoff: “Onward, Jeb Bush.”

It suggests bold action, eyes affixed firmly on the future. Bush has plenty to build on from his past, starting with his two terms as governor of Florida – the nation’s biggest presidential battleground. And he has a long history of involvement and interest in policy, earning him the title of Bush family intellectual.

But he also has work to do to overcome expected resistance to yet another Bush running for president – the dreaded “Bush fatigue.” He already faces resistance within the Republican Party over his support for comprehensive immigration reform and the “Common Core” education standards. Bush also has business ties that could complicate a campaign.

Still, Bush is a favorite of the Republican establishment and a force within the forming 2016 field. Money and connections shouldn’t be a problem. And in his pitch to the future, his family conveys another important message: an embrace of multiculturalism. His wife is from Mexico, and their three children and three grandchildren reflect the ethnic mix that is increasingly common in the US. Bush is also fluent in Spanish. Among all the possible GOP candidates, Bush may well be best-equipped to reach into the crucial Latino vote.

In signing off with “Onward,” Bush may not have realized he was echoing the 2012 campaign slogan of President Obama: “Forward!” Mr. Obama, too, appeared eager to refresh his image as a man of the future, not bogged down in past political struggles.

But along the way, Obama also took grief from conservative media for choosing a slogan with echoes of the old Soviet Union.

“The Obama campaign apparently didn’t look backwards into history when selecting its new campaign slogan, ‘Forward’ – a word with a long and rich association with European Marxism,” wrote Victor Morton in The Washington Times in April 2012.

If Bush keeps going with “onward,” but feels the need for more excitement, he may want some embellishment. When Obama unveiled “Forward,” it sat there, “sort of lonely on the campaign signs and the campaign Web site,” wrote Peter Baker of The New York Times in October 2012.

“Then suddenly, there it was this week, the exclamation point,” Mr. Baker wrote. “No longer was it 'Forward.' It was 'Forward!'

But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Bush hasn’t even formally announced yet. 

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