Jeb Bush: All You Need to Know

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Former Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks with a woman during a backyard campaign event in Washington, Iowa June 17, 2015. Joshua Lott/Reuters

We have had two presidents who were the fathers of presidents. We have had a president who was the grandfather of a president. We have even had presidents who were fifth cousins. But we have never had a president who is the brother of a president.

John Ellis “Jeb” Bush hopes to be the first. He announced on June 16 what has been expected for months: he is running for the GOP presidential nomination. If Jeb Bush does become the first brother of a president elected to the White House, he will likely do so by beating a Democrat in the general election who is seeking to be not just the first woman elected president, but also the first First Lady elected president: Hillary Clinton.

So if you like “firsts,” 2016 could be the election for you.

The Basics:

Name: John Ellis “Jeb” Bush

Date of Birth: February 11, 1953

Place of Birth: Midland, Texas

Religion: Catholic (Episcopalian until 1995)

Political Party: Republican Party

Marital Status: Married (Columba)

Children: George, Noelle, and John Ellis (Jeb), Jr.

Alma Mater: BA, The University of Texas at Austin

Political Career: Governor of Florida (1999-2007); Florida Secretary of Commerce (1987-1988)

Twitter Handle: @JebBush

Campaign Announcement

Bush announced his formal entry into the GOP presidential race in a 29-minute speech in front of 3,000 supporters in a gymnasium on Miami Dade (Community) College’s Kendall Campus.  You can watch his announcement video here.

Bush used the speech to criticize Democrats for favoring a “no-change election,” tout his successes as governor of Florida and highlight his passion for remaking America’s educational system. He also vowed to shoot for “four percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.” Those are ambitious numbers. The U.S. economy hasn’t grown at four percent annually in fifteen years.

Not surprisingly, Bush took aim at President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy record:

With their phone-it-in foreign policy, the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling.

This supposedly risk-averse administration is also running us straight in the direction of the greatest risk of all–military inferiority.

It will go on automatically until a president steps in to rebuild our armed forces and take care of our troops and our veterans.

They have my word–I will do it.

Bush also took on the issue of his family connections, at first using a bit of humor:

And in this country of ours, the most improbable things can happen. Take that from a guy who met his first president on the day he was born, and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital.

But he soon struck a more serious note:

Not a one of us deserves the job by right of résumé, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test—exactly as contest for president should be.

And toward the end of his speech, Bush did something few of his opponents can match. He made a pitch for the Latino vote—in Spanish.

Bush’s Story

As the son and brother of presidents, Bush knows that family ties can both help and hurt. On the plus side, he benefits from name recognition and access to a well-developed fundraising network. On the latter score, he told supporters at a Miami fundraiser back in April that he had raised more money in the first one hundred days than any previous Republican candidate.

He didn’t say how much, and because he wasn’t a declared candidate at the time, he wasn’t required to file disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission. But it is safe to say he will be better funded than his GOP rivals.

One downside of Bush’s family connection is that some voters might dislike the idea of a family dynasty. If Bush wins in 2016, the United States will be looking at a thirty-two year period (1989-2021) in which a Bush was president for exactly half the time.

Jeb’s mother and former First Lady Barbara Bush alluded to this problem two years ago when she declared on the Today Show that “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House. (Mrs. Bush subsequently changed her mind and publicly endorsed Jeb’s presidential run.) Of course, if Bush squares off against Secretary Clinton in the general election, complaints about presidential political dynasties will be moot.

The other downside of Bush’s family connections is that his opponents will try to link him to what they see as his father’s and (especially) his brother’s failed policies. Bush sought to get ahead of the issue back in February when he noted:

I love my brother, I love my dad, I actually love my mother as well . . . . And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.

But he gave the issue new life last month when he told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that he would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq even with the benefit of hindsight. That produced a torrent of criticism, from both Republicans and Democrats.

Bush maintained that he had misunderstood the question. He eventually said “I would not have gone into Iraq,” but only after several days of controversy and several different answers. The controversy helped scotch predictions that Bush would quickly come to dominate the Republican race.

Bush hopes that his long-standing interest in Latin America will help him win Latino votes. He majored in Latin American studies in college, has lived in both Mexico and Venezuela, and speaks fluent Spanish.

He won 61 percent of the Latino vote when he first won the Florida governorship back in 1998. But the Latino electorate in Florida looks very different than the Latino electorate nationally; it is more Cuban American and less Mexican American.

Here Bush’s wife, Columba, who was born and raised in Mexico, could be a political asset. They first met when he was a seventeen-year-old high school student studying in León Guanajuato, Mexico. Bush begins the “Meet Jeb” section of his campaign website by writing, “my life changed forever when I met her….From the moment I got to know her, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.”

Bush will face sharp competition for Latino votes in the GOP primary from his protégé, Senator Marco Rubio. The two men think highly of each other. Bush has said “I have a special place in my heart for [Rubio].” Rubio, in turn, has described Bush as “the man I admired most in Florida politics.”

That said, Rubio isn’t about to cut his mentor any slack. His call for a “generational change in America’s political leadership” can be read as a shot at both Bush and Clinton. A Bush-Rubio (or Rubio-Bush) ticket isn’t in the cards because the Twelfth Amendment penalizes political parties for having a presidential and vice presidential candidate from the same state.

Bush’s Message

Bush’s campaign theme is the “right to rise,” which is also the name of his PAC. He first outlined his vision back in February. He wants to combat income inequality and ensure every American can rise out of poverty. He proposes doing that by following five core principles: supporting two-parent families, encouraging economic growth, making it easier to work rather than to not work, giving every child a great education and shifting power from the federal government to state and local government.

Bush has long championed education reform. Like most conservatives, he supports charter schools and school choice. He also supports the Common Core, which many Republicans vocally oppose. His GOP opponents will try to use this against him, but it is unclear that the issue resonates with most voters.

Bush cut taxes when he was governor of Florida, a fact he will tout on the campaign trail. His GOP rivals, however, will note that he said he would be willing to increase taxes if they were paired with spending cuts as part of a comprehensive deal to balance the federal budget. Bush’s rivals will also point out that he hasn’t signed Grover Norquist’s pledge against raising taxes, something most of them have done.

Foreign Policy Views

Like most governors, Bush does not have a long foreign policy resume. He has sought to rectify that in recent months with a series of speeches, most notably last December to theU.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, and then in February to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Last week he visited Germany, Poland and Estonia in what was widely described as a bid to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

In his speeches, Bush has struck many of the same themes that his GOP rivals have hit in their remarks: America must lead in the world, Barack Obama has been too slow and weak in responding to foreign challenges, and as a result, dangers abroad have gathered. Bush put it this way in his speech to the Chicago Council:

Under this administration, we are inconsistent and indecisive. We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends. We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.

Bush went on to criticize Obama’s negotiations with Iran, his failed “reset” policy with Russia, his reluctance to engage in personal diplomacy, his weakness in dealing with ISIS and his “careless disregard to the long-term interests of America and the world.”

In terms of his own foreign policy principles, Bush stresses the importance of a strengthened American economy, the possibility of energy independence, and a strong American military with a “twenty-first century defense capability.” But above all:

Our foreign policy must be rooted in a critical principle… “liberty diplomacy”…. Time and time again, we have learned that if we withdraw from the defense of liberty elsewhere, the battle eventually comes to us anyway—in our cities, in our streets and in our skies…The enemies of freedom will never be content to live in their own dark corner of the globe. They must eventually strike out at America. And they often do”

Democrats and political pundits were quick to find parallels between the idea of “liberty democracy” and George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda.

Bush has been quick to emphasize that American leadership requires maintaining and strengthening relations with friends and allies. Last week in Germany he stressed:

Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build.

Of course, these general principles are compatible with a variety of specific foreign policy choices. Bush has provided some guidance on how he would handle some current foreign policy challenges.

In terms of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), Bush opposes sending U.S. combat troops to fight in Iraq or Syria. He has called instead for embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi troops “to help train them, to identify targets.”

Bush has dismissed the potential nuclear deal with Iran as “horrific”:

“The reason why this is a bad deal is, Iran hasn’t recognized Israel and its right to be a Jewish state. Iran has destabilized the region that we’re now engaged in. The net result of this is, we’re likely to have proliferation in the region, you’re likely to have an emboldened Iran, not a humble Iran, and you’re likely to have our strongest ally in the region be threatened. So I think this is a horrific deal.”

Bush has said he is prepared to kill the deal if he becomes president. Unlike his GOP rivals, however, he has not committed himself to doing so. He has said instead he will do so “if it’s in the security interests of the United States, absolutely.”

Bush proposes to be tougher in dealing with Russia:

Ultimately I think to deal with Putin you need to deal from strength—he’s a bully and … you enable bad behavior when you’re nuanced with a guy like that.

To that end, he would work with U.S. allies to isolate Russia’s “corrupt leadership.” He also says he would consider basing U.S. troops in Poland and the Baltics:

There are things that we could do given the scale of our military to send a strong signal that we’re on the side of Poland, the Baltics and the countries that truly feel threatened by the “little green men,” this new cyber warfare and these other tactics that Russia now is using. I think we ought to consider putting troops there for sure.

At a minimum, he wants “more robust” NATO training exercises; he thinks that the exercises the Obama administration has ordered thus far fall short of the mark:

You see the difference between our training exercises and the Russian training exercises, where they deploy tens of thousands of people in the region, literally next door to our allies—and our response is far less mean.

As for Ukraine, he favors giving Kiev lethal aid to help it deter and defeat pro-Russian separatists.

Bush opposes Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba. He argues that “instead of lifting the embargo, we should consider strengthening it.”

Like most GOP presidential candidates, Bush favors expanding U.S. trading arrangements abroad. He has called for the creation of “a serious plan to complete the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” a proposed major trade with Europe. He has yet, however, to lay down the principles he thinks should guide that plan.

When it comes to climate change, Bush acknowledges that:

the climate is changing and I’m concerned about that. But to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

Bush’s lack of urgency is based partly on his conviction that it is “really arrogant” to say that the science on climate change has been decided. He is also optimistic that the United States “can continue to reduce carbon emissions by taking advantage of the abundance of natural gas” made possible by America’s energy revolution.

Bush parts ways with most of his GOP rivals when it comes to immigration. He has supported immigration reform, though his views have shifted somewhat in recent years. While he once supported a path to citizenship, especially for those brought to the United States illegally as children, in his 2013 book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, he leaned toward permanent residency instead.

Even so, he remains more open than other Republican contenders to reform proposals. Indeed, although his prepared remarks for his campaign announcement did not mention immigration, Bush quickly dove into the topic when pro-reform protesters began heckling him:

By the way, just so that our friends know, the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that will be solved, not by executive order.

Whether Bush’s views on immigration will help or hurt him remains to be seen. Parts of the GOP base are dead set against anything that sounds like amnesty, but polling suggests that the average Republican voter is less hostile to the idea of a path to citizenship.

More on Bush

Jeb Bush has written two books, Profiles in Character (with Brian Yablonski), and Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution (with Clint Bolick).

The New York Times has “Jeb Bush on the Issues.” CBS New has “5 Things to Know About Jeb Bush.” CNN has “7 Things to Know About Jeb Bush.” NPR has “5 Things You Should Know About Jeb Bush.” The Daily Signal has “8 Things You Should Know About New Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush.”

New York Magazine profiled Jeb Bush back in 2012. Newsweek asked last year, “Can he distance himself from the family history and simultaneously harness it?The Atlantic asked earlier this year “Is Jeb Bush a Republican Obama?” A January New Yorker piece details Bush’s education reforms in Florida.

James M. Lindsay is senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations website.

In the same series, by the same author, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio,Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham.