Jeb Bush sounded like nothing if not an applicant for a management position — pledging fiscal responsibiity, downsizing, reorganization, standards benchmarking, efficiency improvements and stripping layers of management. The only thing missing was pie charts on a PowerPoint presentation.
A room of several hundred red-blooded Conservatives applauded the GOP hopeful’s every proposal — more than politely, but less than passionately. It’s hard not to hear the word “technocrat” in the ether as Bush speaks.
What sets Bush apart from other governors running for president, in his estimation, is what he described as the “most comprehensive record of consistent conservative principles. I won. I got to say what I was going to do, and I did it.”
His checklist of gubernatorial accomplishments include cutting taxes, eliminating affirmative action, eliminating career civil service protections, reducing state workforce, creating the first school voucher programs in the country. His education reforms bore fruit as Florida had the “greatest learning gains.”
He said the Sunshine State led nation in job growth seven out of eight years, and along the way his 2,500 line-item vetoes earned him the nickname “Veto Corleone.”
At his most passionate, the former Florida governor said, “Conservatives will win if we’re hopeful and optimistic and have concrete plans based on our timeless principles. Your life will be better because we’ve done it before. I’ve done it as governor.”
Bush entered the room with a stiff headwind of doubts about his positions on immigration and education, and while he may not have allayed those concerns, he was given a fair hearing by the group most likely to wish his campaign jet would be parked in the hangar indefinitely.
On Common Core federally-recommended education standards, and education in general, Bush frankly conveyed a mixed message. He repeatedly said that the federal government should have virtually no role in elementary and secondard education, and also said repeatedly that he’s for high standards. He never made it clear why a presidential candidate should even express an opinion on school standards if the office he hopes to execute has no role in that business. He did tout his record as a leader in expanding school choice and toughening academic standards at the state level.
Addressing the big news of the day, during the Q&A session, Bush took on Donald Trump’s apparently disparaging remarks about women, particularly Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly.
“Do we want to win, or do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters?” Bush asked, noting that Trump was not only politically foolish, but just wrong. “Mr. Trump ought to apologize.”
He rattled off too many managerial proposals for this reporter’s clumsy fingers to capture on a keyboard.
Bush’s use of language included subtleties not evident in rousing addresses by Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, Perry, Huckabee and Rubio who preceded him on the Red State stage.
He said, for example, “We need to simplify the tax code, and lower the rates as much as possible.” It’s a suitably vague statement for a candidate, but note how he hedges with “as much as possible.” This is a far cry from calls to abolish the IRS or institute a fair tax.
Nevertheless, he also said, “We have to make a radical change, dramatically changing the tax code” in order to grow at four percent, which is the growth level he thinks possible, and frankly necessary.
Bush sniped at Hillary Clinton’s opposition to domestic energy development, like hydraulic fracturing and the Keystone XL pipeline, which was delayed in her State Department for years.
“This should be a time when we have marching bands celebrating,” Bush said, noting that fracking is an American invention that lowers costs, and increases opporunity for every American.
“After all of the years of studying the XL pipeline…[Hillary Clinton] can’t now have an opinion on that?” he asked rhetorically and sardonically. “I know what her opinion is. She’s opposed to it. I’m for it.”
Returning to his refrain of GDP growth, Bush said, we can’t grow at four percent a year unless we strengthen our foreign policy.
“Our friends should know that we have their back, and our enemies should fear us,” because “our enemies, when they don’t fear us, act aggressively.”
Like other GOP presidential candidates he pointed to China’s island military expansion, Russia’s bluster and the growth of ISIS, now a pseudo-state the size of Indiana with a mission to conquer Western civlization.
“We have to begin to lead again,” he said. “American leadership is essential for a more peaceful world, and we need to rebuild the military to back it up.”
Bush pitched himself as an experienced, executive who governed Florida conservatively, kept taxes low, reformed education, and guarded life. With self-deprecating humor, Bush said, “If it’s about delivering great speeches. I’m not going to be president, probably.” But, he added, it’s not about talk but demonstrated leadership, noting as others have, that the country went with a great speech-maker in 2008, and that didn’t work out well.”
In order to prevent what Bush called “Barack Obama’s third term”, the election of Hillary Clinton, “I’m going to fight with heart…in a hopeful optimistic way. The only way you can get to 50 (percent of the vote) is to add…not subtract. I’m going to campaign in the Latino communities in Spanish and say “join our cause.”
He said he would also go into Black communities, calling on them to “join us in our cause to liberate our education system.”
Spreading his arms wide, Bush said, “We have to campaign like this,” he said. “Come our way. Join our cause. Fight for your own freedom.”
Asked what he would do about some new affordable housing regulations, he noted that any regulations not yet in place can be reversed by the next president. But he cautioned those who hope to use executive orders to implement a conservative agenda.
“There’s a temptation to say, ‘Obama did it, so we can do it.’ The constitution is a document that we should respect,” Bush said to hearty applause.
On immigration, Bush encouraged people to read his four-year-old book, “Immigration Wars.” He called for more effective border patrols, closer to the border, and the use of technology and fences where appropriate. More Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies should be deployed to more communities to identify illegal immigrants, 40 percent of whom have overstayed their legal visas, and “politely ask them to leave.”
To critics who don’t believe we can secure the border, he asked, “Have we lost our way so much that the we think the new normal is healthcare.gov?”
Bush would also “take away all federal law enforcement money from sanctuary cities.
Controlling the border, and limiting the scope of chain migration through families will not deal with what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.. For them, Bush said it’s too expensive to find them and send them packing (he estimates $400-$600 billion). So, we can either do nothing, or let them earn legal status through working, learning English, and abstaining from federal aid programs.