MIAMI—Jeb Bush launched a Republican presidential bid months in the making Monday with a vow to get Washington “out of the business of causing problems” and to stay true to his beliefs—easier said than done in a bristling primary contest where his conservative credentials will be sharply challenged.
“I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching,” Bush said, opening his campaign at a rally near his South Florida home at Miami Dade College, where the institution’s large and diverse student body symbolizes the nation he seeks to lead.
The former Florida governor, whose wife is Mexico-born, addressed the packed college arena in English and Spanish, an unusual twist for a political speech aimed at a national audience.
“In any language,” Bush said, “my message will be an optimistic one because I am certain that we can make the decades just ahead in America the greatest time ever to be alive in this world.”
Bush enters a 2016 Republican contest that will test both his vision of conservatism and his ability to distance himself from family.
Neither his father, former President George H.W. Bush, nor his brother, former President George W. Bush, attended Monday’s announcement. The family was represented instead by Jeb Bush’s mother and former first lady, Barbara Bush, who once said that the country didn’t need yet another Bush as president, and by his son George P. Bush, recently elected Texas land commissioner.
Before the event, the Bush campaign came out with a new logo—Jeb!—that conspicuously leaves out the Bush surname.
And in his speech, he took on critics in both parties, particularly Hillary Rodham Clinton, the overwhelming favorite in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election,” Bush said. “The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next.”
He later called out Clinton by name, and indirectly jabbed fellow Republicans, including his political protégé Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who welcomed Bush into the 2016 contest earlier in the day. “We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it,” Bush said.
Bush joins the race in progress in some ways in a commanding position, in part because of his family connections.
He has probably raised a record amount of money to support his candidacy and conceived of a new approach on how to structure his campaign, both aimed at allowing him to make a deep run into the GOP primaries. But on other measures, early public opinion polls among them, he has yet to break out.
While unquestionably one of the top-tier candidates in the GOP race, he is also only one of several in a large and capable Republican field that does not have a true front-runner.
In the past six months, Bush has made clear he will remain committed to his core beliefs in the campaign to come—even if his positions on immigration and education standards are deeply unpopular among the conservative base of the party that plays an outsized role in the GOP primaries.
Tea party leader Mark Meckler on Monday said Bush’s positions on education and immigration are “a nonstarter with many conservatives.”
“There are two political dynasties eyeing 2016,” said Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the movement’s largest organizations, and now leader of Citizens for Self-Governance. “And before conservatives try to beat Hillary, they first need to beat Bush.”
Yet a defiant Bush has showed little willingness to placate his party’s right wing.
Instead, he aimed his message on Monday at the broader swath of the electorate that will ultimately decide the November 2016 general election. Minority voters, in particular, have fueled Democratic victories in the last two presidential elections.
Of the five people on the speaking program before Bush, just one was a white male.
Bush is one of 11 major Republicans in the hunt for the nomination. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are among those still deciding whether to join a field that could end up just shy of 20.
Bush’s critics in both parties have criticized him as aggressively as they would if he were the clear Republican favorite.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday there’s “Bush–Clinton fatigue” in America. “I think some people have had enough Bushes and enough Clintons,” Paul said in an interview with The Associated Press.
After touring four early-voting states, Bush quickly launches a private fundraising tour with stops in at least 11 cities before the end of the month. Two events alone—a reception at Union Station in Washington on Friday and a breakfast the following week on Seventh Avenue in New York—will account for almost $2 million in new campaign cash, according to invitations that list more than 75 already committed donors.