Jeb Bush Makes His Case

Published June 18, 2015

Commentary Magazine

After more than half-a-year of being in the “exploratory stage” of the campaign, on Monday former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it official: He’s running for president. His announcement speech was very well crafted — elegant and deft, forceful in some parts and demonstrating a light touch in others. It crisply covered a lot of ground and was aimed at several different audiences. And based on the reviews, it was a successful launch. Now the work really begins.

The outlines of the Bush strategy are fairly clear: to reveal his character, what motivates him, and parts of his interior life (he refers to it as “showing my heart”); to remind people of his public record (he was an extremely successful, conservative two-term governor of Florida); and to lay out his vision for America (the “right to rise,” rapid and widely shared economic growth, and a more decent and just society).

The way to achieve his vision, the Bush argument goes, is with a 21st-century governing agenda that will remove the barriers to success – and the capacity to put his ideas into effect. That is where his record in Florida comes into play. “I know we can fix this,” Bush said. “Because I’ve done it.” He was a reforming governor who will be a reforming president, one who is “willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation’s capital.”

On the matter of his surname and dynastic concerns, Jeb Bush dealt with it head-on:

Campaigns aren’t easy, and they’re not supposed to be. And I know that there are good people running for president. Quite a few, in fact. And not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open – exactly as a contest for president should be. The outcome is entirely up to you – the voters.

It is entirely up to me to earn the nomination of my party and then to take our case all across this great and diverse nation.

I’m familiar with the arguments of some on the right who are wary of a Bush candidacy. Some of those concerns are responsible, if in my judgment misguided. Others are less responsible, including those who assert that he’s a RINO, a “moderate Democrat,” a “neo-statist,” indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton, and so on. Those charges are bizarre, given Bush’s record as governor of Florida – a record that was, in the words of George Will, “measurably more conservative” than that of Ronald Reagan during his two-term governorship of California. (I’ve made that point, and laid out the case to justify it, before.) Whatever concerns there are among Republicans about Jeb Bush, the one that he’s not a full-spectrum or principled conservative is among the weakest.

Here’s the key thing to understand: For some on the right – not all by any means, but some — substance, philosophy and governing achievements don’t matter all that much. What does matter to them is style – and the style they prefer is strident, angry, and apocalyptic. They are suspicious of the outsider. They view themselves as persecuted and America as on the road to becoming a “Third World hell hole.” The word “compromise” repulses them. And they view party outreach as a sign of weakness.

Jeb Bush, whom I first met during his first term as governor, has a fundamentally different approach to politics, and to life. He’s not in a state of perpetual agitation. He is at ease with himself and the world around him, which is something that can’t be said about some of his critics.

None of this means Jeb Bush will be the nominee. Nor does it mean that he’s above criticism or that he’s the only person in the race conservatives should support. A whole array of factors needs to go into that decision, and there are some very impressive and accomplished people running, with more to enter soon. (I should say here that I’ve offered free counsel to his campaign and to others who have since entered the presidential race, as well as Members of Congress, all consistent with my position as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And I’m happy to do so to anyone who asks, including Hillary Clinton. But my guess is she’d reject my policy ideas.)

The purpose of a primary is to judge which candidate is able to rise to the challenge; to allow them make their case based on their character and countenance, experience and achievements, judgment and political skills, governing ideas and vision. As Jeb Bush said on Monday, it’s entirely up to the candidates to earn the nomination of their party and then to take their case all across this great and diverse nation.

It looks to me like he’s off to a pretty good start.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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