Jeb Bush Hopes Past is Prologue As He Aims To Kickstart Campaign
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush will try to revive his campaign’s future by reaching into his own past.
Once considered the front-runner for his party’s nomination, Bush is now facing questions about whether he even wants the job after cutting back on his campaign’s payroll and a poor debate performance last week that helped convince at least one major donor, New York hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, to back Senator Marco Rubio's campaign.
Bush’s comeback plan starts Monday with a three-day, three state tour wrapped around the release of his latest book, Reply All. The self-published work is the story of Bush’s eight years as Florida governor, from 1999 to 2006, uniquely told through some of the tens of thousands of e-mails Bush sent to and received from citizens, reporters and state lawmakers—including Rubio, then a state lawmaker in Florida.
Bush, who will be joined by several friends on the swing through Florida, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, is branding the swing as the "Jeb Can Fix it Tour." In what his campaign is promoting as a major speech, Bush will speak Monday in Tampa about rejecting the “competing pessimisms” in politics in favor of leadership that solves problems.
Bush has maintained from the start of his presidential campaign that his record as governor sets him apart in the crowded Republican primary field. That message hasn’t caught on with Republican voters, whose top choices have been two candidates with no experience in elected office: Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Still, many of Bush’s top donors say they can’t fathom the Republican electorate choosing either Trump or Carson when the voting begins in February. And Bush continues to hold himself out as the most experienced candidate on the debate stage, arguing that is quality that will best help Republicans win next year against Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“If you look at the three people on stage from the United States Senate, all three of them have a combined two bills that became law that they’ve sponsored,” Bush said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, referring to Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. “Look at Hillary Clinton. In 10 years, three bills she sponsored that became law. This is the gridlock that I’m running to try to break up. I can change the culture in Washington.”
A key document in this argument for Bush is the new book, the release of which is timed to the start of his three-day tour.
A self-described technology geek, Bush regularly gave out his private e-mail address to constituents. In 2001, he got his first BlackBerry. “I was about to fall in love for the second time in my life,” Bush writes in the book about the hand-held device, which would be painted into his official portrait years later.
The book shows off Bush’s conservative credentials: battling with teachers unions over voucher programs, heated exchanges with fellow Republicans over budget vetoes, and the first time that Terri Schiavo’s father reached out for help from the then-governor.
"Terri's case may be beyond your realm of authority, but I sincerely believe you could be helpful," Bob Schindler wrote to Bush on April 5, 2001, more than two years before Florida lawmakers passed "Terri's Law," allowing Bush to order Schiavo's feeding tube to be re-inserted. The state Supreme Court later overturned the law as unconstitutional.
Bush's is portrayed as arch-conservative agenda during his time in office, but also as a man who often found a compliant Republican majority in the legislature (Bush writes that his seventh year in office may have been his most accomplished, after his first).
Another takeaway is the sheer amount of news happening to Bush while he was in office: Elian Gonzales was taken from the home of Miami relatives and returned to Cuba, terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks learned to fly in Florida, eight hurricanes and four tropical storms hit the state in two years, the "hanging chads" that marked his brother's 2000 presidential race.
And through it all, Bush uses the book show his dedication to the job. There are e-mails with dozens of to-do items for his staff, sketching out the next legislative session on the heals of the last. Some e-mails are legislative battle plans, with Bush suggesting activists who could help lobby lawmakers and House lawmakers who might convince recalcitrant senators.
His wife, Columba, writes in the book's forward that “there were times I wished he had put down his BlackBerry.” Bush, calling the governorship his dream job, writes twice in the e-mails about crying on the job, once during an emotional exchange with a Floridian whose husband was killed in the war on terror, and again when he “cried with joy” while watching the 2005 launch of Discovery, the first space shuttle launch since the Columbia disintegrated on its reentry two years earlier.
In the midst of the presidential primary campaign, it's hard not to read all of this as a not-so-subtle contrast with Rubio, whose steady rise in the polls Bush has tried to blunt by criticizing the senator's poor attendance in Washington.
Rubio is mentioned just a few times in the book, including an e-mail in 2005 when Bush told his staff, "I need to get a sword for Marco." Rubio was about to be the first Cuban-American named state House speaker, and Bush marked the occasion by giving him a ceremonial sword that would help "unleash a mythical power for conservative causes." Rubio hung it in his speaker's office, but asked earlier this year about its location, he said it was "somewhere at home. "I have young kids," he told reporters. "I don't want them running around with a sword."
Bush also writes about how he forwarded an article Rubio might find interesting, and received an e-mail back from Rubio's office saying it may take him "a minimum of one week" to respond. "Auto response!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Bush wrote back, saying in the book that he "couldn't resist ribbing my friend Marco Rubio just a little."
"Even the most innovative among us," Rubio wrote back, "need time to make dramatic changes like getting rid of the auto response!"