The 2016 campaign for president appeared to begin in earnest in the wake of a recently New York Times article that suggested that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was already beginning to weigh financial and family considerations of a potential bid for president.
The timing of the article drew immediate attention from the national media and a steady stream of "will he run?" stories.
And Bush has remained in the news since then due to his national education summit held in Washington D.C. and his decision to take the post of chairman of the board of trustees of the National Constitution Center. There was even a recent piece in Time where he talked about education and joked that he has breaking out in a rash each time someone calls him a "centrist."
For those of us who follow Bush _ and keep in touch with people still in his orbit _ it is not a surprise that the presidential buzz is already starting since it appeared that the governor made a calculated decision early on in the 2012 cycle that this was not the time to run.
In other words, one could argue that Jeb instinctively knew that President Barack Obama would be very difficult to beat. And it probably would have been even more of an uphill battle for Bush. One Bush ally told me that heading into this year's presidential election the former governor himself was cognizant that there could still be "Bush fatigue" from his brother's stint as president.
But the mystery of will Jeb run in 2016 is likely to be less about his brother and more about what makes sense for him and his family.
The plain fact is that some in the national media would likely delve deeply into Bush's family life if he ran. This would like lead to the re-airing, re-reporting of troubles with his daughter Noelle Bush and even Columba Bush's run-in with U.S. customs agents. Yes, one could argue that the neither have any bearing on whether Bush is qualified for president. But it would be naive to think that stories like this would not be played back up on a national level should Bush mount a serious campaign.
That means that Jeb Bush has to make a calculated decision on whether the presidency is worth the avalanche of coverage that would come with a run for the White House. Bush, who does display flashes of anger from time to time, made it clear to the press corps in Tallahassee that questions about his family were out-of-bounds (although Bush himself did talk about his daughter on national television.) Bush's ability to exert any level of control on the national media, however, would be non-existent.
But as the national media begin to ponder a Bush run it's interesting to see the coverage that includes the following:
Bush is no longer really a conservative. Bush should step aside for fresh faces like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Bush has been too deferential to President Obama and by extension the Democrats.
This is a fascinating narrative since it conflicts with the reality of his record.
To begin with - Bush's record as governor eclipses anything that Rubio has accomplished so far. Rubio's stint as House speaker left very much a mixed record. It's true he clashed with then-Gov. Charlie Crist on things such as expanded gambling, but Rubio also did things like endorse an expansion of state intervention into property insurance that was decried by conservatives. Rubio has maintained a fairly consistent voting record in the Senate in the last two years and inspired Republicans with his soaring rhetoric and his defense of American exceptionalism. But the plain fact is that Bush stands right now as one of the most substantial governors in the history of Florida in the last 50 years.
The success of his achievements can be questioned _ such as in a recent piece by Reuters _ but it's worth looking back at what happened during his eight years in office.For those who may have forgotten, consider this a Bush primer:
1. During his two terms as governor, Bush pursued a series of education reform policies that were constantly criticized and villified by some of the mainstays of the Democratic Party. He pursued a school voucher program for students in chronically-failing schools that was eventually struck down by the state Supreme Court. The state's teacher union was so dramatically opposed to Bush that it spent money on independent television ads that helped propel little-known Tampa lawyer Bill McBride past former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. One of the emerging narratives happening in Florida politics now is that current Gov. Rick Scott has slowly begun challenging the underpinnings of some of the reforms, such as high-stakes testing. While Scott remains a firm backer of vouchers, he advocated this week for requiring students who receive vouchers to take the same tests as public school students. This is a stark turn-around from the position that has been taken by Bush and his allies.
2. Bush was staunchly pro-life during his terms as governor and was at the heart of the Terri Schiavo controversy. Bush's role in trying to keep Schiavo alive could in fact harm him during a run for the presidency. Not only did he support the legislation that attempted to bypass court rulings dealing with Schiavo but there were stories at the time that Bush contemplated sending in law-enforcement to seize Ms. Schiavo. The governor's office officially denied the reports at the time, but it would very likely there would be a re-airing of the entire controversy.
3. Bush's fiscal bonafides. While he was governor, state spending continued to rise as the continued rise in the real estate market led to record heights in the amount of state taxes that were taken in. But Bush also pursued some of the largest tax cuts in the history of the state _ including pushing for $1 billion worth of tax cuts in his first year in office. His handling of state finances was rewarded with stellar triple AAA bond ratings.
4. Bush took on public sector employees and their unions. During his term in office, Bush tried to make major reforms in public employee pensions. He was unsuccessful in his bid to force all new state employees to choose a 401 (K) styled plan but he got it an optional version. Bush also successfully argued for _ and got approval from the Legislature _ to reclassify roughly 16,000 career service employees into positions where they no longer had the same job protections.
5. Bush took the charge in eliminating some of the affirmative action programs in place in the state. Bush signed an executive order that removed affirmative action policies in state purchasing and got the state panel that oversaw the state university system to revamp admission policies to remove race as factor for consideration. During his first run for office in 1994, Bush was asked by a woman what he would do for black people if he were elected. "Probably nothing,'' Bush said at the time. Bush's push against affirmative action sparked a backlash led by then State Sen. Kendrick Meek and resulted in one of the largest protests ever on the steps of the Capitol. Meek and others used their anger over Bush's actions to rally voters against Bush's brother in the 2000 presidential election (and we know how that turned out in Florida.)
And if that wasn't enough consider this: Bush overhauled the death penalty, pushed through a huge expansion in the use of economic incentives to try to jumpstart the biotech industry, rallied voters to repeal a high-speed rail mandate, went after trial lawyers by trying to limit medical malpractice lawsuits, tried to undo a constitutional amendment (pushed by his nemesis Kendrick Meek) that mandated smaller class sizes, strengthened the power of the governor over the judiciary, and responded forcefully and efficiently to eight hurricanes that hit the state in 2004 and 2005.
The one area where Bush has been at odds with his fellow conservatives is over the issue of immigration. While Rubio's position on immigration has evolved and shifted as his political career has advanced, the governor has taken some stances that could cost him votes. Bush has not only criticized the tone and rhetoric about the issue, but he himself has even taken stances that illegal immigrants should be given access to driver's licenses.
As the speculation about Bush's future continues to heat up, it will be interesting to see if there is a continued attempt to rebrand Bush into someone who doesn't resemble the man who led the Sunshine State for eight years.