Political Passport: Jeb Bush & 2016

Jeb Bush fist pump

We’re less than a week before the 2014 midterm elections, in which the GOP is trying its best to increase its majority in the House of Representatives, gain a majority in the Senate, and continue its strong leadership in state governments in every region of our nation.

But the news cycle knows there are bigger stories on the horizon, because in the aftermath of next Tuesday, presidential candidates move from informal speculation to formal declarations and moves towards official candidacies to become the 45th President of the United States.

For the Democratic Party, everyone seems to officially be “Ready for Hillary”, the name of the independent SuperPAC forming grassroots networks for another Hillary run at The White House. As Bill and Hillary tour the nation stumping for congressional candidates, other Democrats prepare and scurry in the shadows, wondering if the Clinton Machine will be well-oiled to make history or whether the Clinton Machine will prove itself too clunky once again just like its collapse in 2008, opening a window for Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Martin O’Malley, or a Castro brother from Texas. Movement progressives seem to teeter between wanting Hillary to lock it up early and wanting Elizabeth Warren to compete with Hillary in case she stumbles or to at least pull Hillary to the left.

For the Republican Party, there is no frontrunner. As parties out of power traditionally do, factions jockey for the future of the party. As Rand Paul attempts to take libertarianism mainstream while also reaching out to establishment Republicans in addition to college students, African Americans, and other demographics drastically lacking in our party, other potential 2016 hopefuls like Scott Walker are merely trying to win tough reelection bids. Chris Christie is attempting to shake the shadow of BridgeGate and show why he was an early frontrunner for so long with his real talk and strong executive leadership.

Then there’s Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and so many others in D.C., in the states, and outside politics altogether. But there is one name that could shake up the 2016 GOP primary more than any other. It’s a name that’s as familiar as it is controversial. That name is Jeb Bush. And after hearing Jeb Bush talk about the future of America for over an hour last night at Vanderbilt University, I’m more confident than ever before that he is the Republican Party, conservatism, and America’s best hope in 2016.

Readers of this blog, my Twitter feed, and my Facebook feed are not strangers to my admiration and support for Jeb Bush. But when it comes to 2016 candidates, I’ve also said very positive things about Jindal, Rubio, Ryan, Christie, and Paul. I have infinite amount of respect for Ben Carson as a doctor and a freedom-loving American. And I’m also thankful for Senator Cruz’s outspoken support for many issues and reaching across the aisle to work on some creative solutions to issues such as sexual assault in the military.

None of these men are perfect and, in fact, I’ve also publicly and privately disagreed with statements they have made and actions they have taken. But as we look at an American populace that is disenchanted and jaded with the false hope and change promised in 2008, recognizing that redemption does not lie with any individual holding the Presidency is arguably a necessary step forward for the American electorate.

Peter Wehner recently wrote in Commentary about America’s anxious mood and what it means for Republicans in 2014 and 2016. After discussing all of the polling and statistical data outlining the anxiety and pessimism large majorities of Americans have towards government and our nation’s future, he lays out what effect this could and should have on the GOP looking for a presidential candidate.

“Given all of this [turmoil], and assuming that in two years the political environment and psychological state of Americans is roughly what it is now, it’s interesting to contemplate some of the qualities they may be looking for in a GOP nominee. My guess: A conservative who radiates competence, steadiness, and reassurance; who is perceived as principled, reform-minded, and reality-based; and who’s comfortably associated with a middle-class governing agenda. […] A modesty about what government can accomplish would be most welcomed; so would distrust of those who cling to ideology even when facts argue the contrary. […] The Republican Party’s standard-bearer certainly needs to be perceived as modern, future-oriented, and understanding the ways the world is changing. A GOP nominee will also have to speak more to people’s aspirations than to their fears.”

I think many Americans can agree on these characteristics. Additionally, most reasonable movement conservatives agree that the GOP needs to close the gap with the Democrats on data and technology, that the GOP needs to build bridges and make inroads with African-American and Hispanic communities, and that the GOP needs to ensure it is speaking to the problems Americans face today and propose policies and show leadership focused on the future instead of being stuck in nostalgia for the past. Also, contrary to what progressives and the liberal elite may tell us, the GOP and conservatism’s answers to recent presidential election failures is not becoming a liberal-lite party.

Jeb Bush

This brings us to Jeb Bush, who expressed and/or exemplified similar sentiments during his hour-plus conversation with Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos and Jon Meachem  on Tuesday night in Nashville. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joined a standing-room only auditorium to discuss the future of America just as news headlines and rumors have reached a fever point surrounding his potential candidacy in 2016. This past weekend, George P. Bush (who will likely be elected Texas land commissioner next Tuesday) told ABC News’s Jonathan Karl that it is now “more than likely” that his father Jeb Bush will run in 2016. The New York Times ran a profile this weekend about George H.W. and George W. Bush’s desire for Jeb to run and perhaps perfect their imperfect legacies as the 41st and 43rd presidents, even as each of their legacies begins to shine quite a bit more as time passes.

Like all Jeb Bush speculative stories at this point, these include a familiar narrative to those of us who have been reading every “Will he or won’t he?” article. These pieces always talk about his famous political family before discussing why his own wife and daughter may not be so excited about a potential Jeb Bush run. It talks about all of his business ties, and how this provides pros (instant big money donors from the GOP establishment and Wall Street) and cons (Could he be seen as a reformer for Main Street Americans?). It talks about how a GOP primary could be difficult for him given his unapologetic support for Common Core standards and comprehensive immigration reform.

As I talk to friends and acquaintances about Jeb Bush, I have Republican friends who say he’s our best and only hope in 2016 and I have others who doubt whether he is sufficiently conservative, thinking the party should move on to other families and last names. I have Democratic friends who privately confide that they like and respect Jeb Bush more than any Republican in years, while others insist that even if he could be a leader who builds bridges to African American and Hispanic communities, his last name will be too big a burden to overcome to actually succeed in broadening the conservative tent. There are those that simply wish he had a different last name and others that say they could support him if he were a woman or a minority instead of just another wealthy white male.

So given all of these facts, why do I think Jeb Bush should run for President and could be the leader America needs?

I think the 2016 election will be all about competent, experienced executive leadership and providing every single American across every demographic and region a vision of America’s future that is filled with joy, optimism, growth, and hope. I think Peter Wehner’s list of qualities is fairly spot on and we need a conservative, pragmatic political leader who realizes the proper role of the federal government and deregulates for our ever-changing 21st century. Finally, we need a President who recognizes how America is changing and why this is a good thing for our future while also standing strong on our nation’s historical shared values that make the American experiment the greatest thing for freedom and flourishing the world has ever seen.

When Palmer and I went to hear Jeb speak Tuesday night (taking our two-and-a-half week old baby Jack with us… you can never start them too young), we were already inclined to support a potential 2016 candidacy, talking of getting involved by leading a Millennials for Jeb or Evangelicals for Jeb group. But I also went in needing him to prove that he could be the leader I hoped he could be. I went in realizing he would have things to prove and a hill to climb with grassroots, movement conservatives. I also needed to see he could move beyond intelligent policy wonkery and interact in a political, give-and-take, town hall-like setting, appealing to a diverse array of Americans.

Ending the evening discussing his decision process for a potential 2016 candidacy, Bush was humble and honest. From The Tennessean:

He also took on the question of the Oval Office itself, setting a deadline by the end of the year to decide whether he’ll seek to be the third Bush to capture the presidency.

He plans to spend the next few months pondering the decision with his family before ultimately choosing “what’s in my heart.”

“If it’s a ‘yes,’ I guess you go into the Bat Cave,” Bush said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. … Try to parse superhuman skills, which I will definitely need because I’m imperfect in every way.

“I’m totally blessed,” he added. “I’m not like really freaking out about this decision, to be honest with you.”

Bush directly discussed the seemingly losing battle around Common Core, lamenting how the conversation has gotten off track and reiterating that when sound bytes and blogs are traded in for authentic, face-to-face discussion, he finds that moms frustrated by Common Core agree that there should be higher standards, accountability for teachers, and ensuring parents and teachers know how students are doing. He blamed Obama’s credit-taking and confusion surrounding curriculum versus standards for the backlash against Common Core.

Bush floated between policy wonk, politician, and philosopher during the 70 minutes on stage. The most pleasant surprise was his cultural commentary, sounding like Russell Moore when reminding the audience that politics does not exist in a vacuum and is actually downstream from culture. Bush stressed that while so much of America would like to pretend our deadlocked and unpopular politics is the cause of our problems, it is actually representative of our divided culture in which people can segment themselves in homogeneous groups that make them less open-minded to those who live and think differently. In every mode, he seemed at ease, relaxed, and jovial. While his forays into policy wonk-mode made me question whether he actually would run for President, other answers made it clear he’d be ready to step onto the campaign stump tomorrow. (It’s important to note here that my brother-in-law, Seth, who also went with us thought that Jeb likely will not run, preferring to use his platform to talk openly and honestly without the limitations that political candidates undeniably face. As Seth said, Jeb’s well aware of any potential weaknesses he has as a candidate and seems honest in saying he’s going to prayerfully consider a run, which to be honest, makes me even more excited about a potential candidacy. Jeb is not some ambition-fueled politician looking for his ego to be stroked but instead a leader attempting to discern whether now is the time America needs him.)

As he’s stated previously, he thinks Americans need a president who will run a campaign and The White House with joy in his or her heart. He cited the many reasons Americans have to be pessimistic and morose, but also how deregulating and wise policymaking could produce 3 to 4 percent economic growth that could encourage Americans to be empowered again. He also lamented how media outlets focus on sound bytes, distorting actual beliefs.

One key to unlocking this economic growth is immigration reform. As something I’ve written about previously, I was pleased to see Bush enter a zone where he spoke passionately, eloquently and intelligently about the no-nonsense need for comprehensive immigration reform. Again, quoting The Tennessean’s coverage:

Bush discussed what he called a “broken immigration system” that can be fixed by narrowing the nation’s quota system, controlling the border, creating a guest-worker program so that arriving legally is easier than doing so illegally and fixing the visa system.

“We can deal with it by creating a system where we get the first 100,000 first-round draft picks before anyone else picks,” Bush said.

“Embracing the rule of law and embracing our immigrant heritage together is not some radical idea. Apparently, that’s politically crazy. I don’t know. It makes no sense to believe the opposite.”

Bush discussed how immigration reform is personal when answering a question about what the GOP could do to gain more support from minority communities. Telling the story of his own diverse family, he acknowledged his love for Mexican heritage due to his wife being a Mexican-American in addition to providing a story that would be wildly successful on the stump, discussing how his grand daughter is Texan-Iraqi-Canadian-Mexican American and embodies the face of the new America, rich in diversity that makes our communities stronger and revealing that America is different from every other nation on earth because we are not united by faith, ethnicity, or race. Instead, Bush reiterated, America is united by our shared common values. (Interestingly, Bush signaled potential new talking points for future months as he offered a sidebar noting the need for America to embrace U.S. history and civics education that would teach our shared values and what makes America special. He returned to this topic later as he praised health professionals sacrificially serving those struck by Ebola in Africa and civic service in our communities.)

Further discussing how the GOP can gain support from minority communities, Bush struck a tone similar to those of reform conservatives like Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Ross Douthat and even some libertarians when stressing the need to communicate policies in a way that empowers the middle class and the lower class to enter into the middle class. He also joked that people on Twitter shouldn’t try to pretend he was picking a fight with his brother when clarifying what his brother’s “compassionate conservatism” truly was. Subtly answering libertarian criticism that compassionate conservatism is a nickname Republicans use to expand the size and scope of the federal government, Jeb Bush clarified that compassionate conservatism is in fact a call for communities and civic organizations to take responsibility for sacrificially serving those in need.

Saving his sharpest criticism of President Obama for foreign policy discussion, Jeb said the president’s foreign policy has been an “unmitigated disaster” due to its emphasis on nuance without having any guiding principles. “If our allies wonder where we stand and wonder if they can take us at our word and our enemies feel we’re in retreat, we can’t be surprised when ISIS advances or Putin takes the actions he has.” Bush admitted that the American electorate is war weary, but chastised Obama for leading according to polls and not showing the type of presidential leadership that is needed by a commander-in-chief, such as botching the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, allowing the vacuum now being filled by ISIS.

“You can’t rule by polls because what happens? An American journalist is beheaded and all of a sudden polls change. And now you’re behind.”

Bush also criticized the lack of leadership in handling the Ebola crisis, with incompetence early on fueling fears in the public that may not be justified. It was during this answer that Jeb proved something important to me, as he had his most impromptu and crowd-pleasing moment. I’ve always trusted Jeb to be competent, intelligent, thoughtful, and a strong executive leader. But I’ve often wondered how successful he could be on his feet in a town hall-like setting.

While discussing his administration’s grappling with the anthrax crisis and the difficulty to wrap his head around what was happening at the time, my son Jack let out a squeal throughout the silent auditorium. As my wife quickly went out the side door, Jeb, without missing a beat, looked in our direction and said, “That’s exactly how I felt too!”

My newborn son proved he has quite strong comedic and political timing. And Jeb Bush proved to the packed auditorium that he may just be ready to answer the call to service and begin down the long road that is a presidential campaign.

What pushes Jeb Bush to the top of the list of contenders for 2016 is a combination of many of the qualities that make other potential candidates so strong. He has the real talk tendencies of Chris Christie without the rough edges. He brings a CEO mentality of executive leadership that so many loved in Mitt Romney, while being able to tell the American story that can inspire like Marco Rubio. He’s able to talk about the breakdown of American families and communities with optimism and hope, moving past the culture wars of the past decades while also standing steadfast for principled positions.

But, most of all, what struck me Tuesday night was his humility. He knows what type of leadership America needs. And he also realizes what sacrifices seeking and holding the presidency would demand. He is not taking this decision-making process lightly and does not have an ounce of egotistical ambition.

Most importantly, he realizes something far too many presidents and candidates fail to comprehend: being President isn’t about the man or woman who holds the office and their place in history, but being President is about the American people you serve.

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Posted on by Joseph Williams in Featured, Politics

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