WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush came out swinging. He launched his 2016 presidential campaign Monday with a series of attacks -- on the current White House, on Hillary Clinton and against the rest of the Republican field as well.
The former governor of Florida and presidential son and brother wasted no time in setting up a fight with the Democrats. “The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election,” was the tenth line in Bush’s speech, delivered in Miami. “To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name: That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left. And you and I know that America deserves better.”
It’s little surprise that Bush would take an aggressive posture as he enters the race. He joins an already crowded and competitive field of 11 candidates, with more Republicans likely to join in. And he’s an underdog -- polling behind some of his rivals nationally and in early primary states.
He’s going to be the best-funded candidate, and money can buy a lot of attack ads. But it comes with a risk. Bush arouses a good deal of apprehension from conservatives, and it is difficult to win voters with just red meat. In a primary field so large, voters want vision, not just attacks. Mitt Romney struggled through the entire 2012 primary season-- and into the general -- with criticism that he was only able to attack and not to articulate a vision.
But red meat is important, and Bush was happy to offer a little of it up. “Secretary [Hillary] Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary, those beliefs, quote, ‘have to be changed,’" Bush said, interrupted by applause. “That’s what she said, and I guess we should at least thank her for the warning.”
Like many other Republicans who have announced, Bush also offered a swipe at the Affordable Care Act's implications for freedom of conscience on issues like birth control and abortion. “The most galling example is the shabby treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Christian charity that dared to voice objections of conscience to Obamacare,” Bush said. “The next president needs to make it clear that great charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor need no federal instruction in doing the right thing. It comes down to a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother, and I’m going with the Sisters.”
One of the most telling jabs from Bush appeared to be directed at his rivals who work in Washington -- the four senators in the race: Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Three of them, Graham aside, are first-termers who have never held executive office.
“There’s no passing off responsibility when you’re a governor, no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success,” Bush said. “As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that. 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.”
But Bush did not spare fellow governors in the race either. He touted his time as governor of Florida, citing job creation and economic statistics. “All this plus a bond upgrade to Triple-A compared to the sorry downgrade of America’s credit in these years,” Bush said. “That was the commitment, and that is the record that turned this state around.” It seemed to be an unspoken jab at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state has suffered credit downgrades during his time.