Jeb Bush’s speech announcing his presidential campaign Monday confirmed some things we already suspected – like the fact that he’s running – but also revealed a few surprises that suggest the 2016 Republican primaries will be more interesting than expected.
“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,” he said. “As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that.” So much for Sens. Cruz, Graham, Paul and Rubio.
That must have been a deliberate choice, and it’s probably a smart one. But Jeb should be prepared for the obvious follow-up question: Why didn’t people get raises during the last Republican administration?
This could make for an unusual primary dynamic. Bush is the “establishment” candidate in the race. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is, according to opinion polls, the leader among the candidates trying to position themselves to Bush’s right. Yet Bush appears to be more comfortable talking about social issues than Walker, who would rather focus on economic policies. On a set of issues that have typically been important to primary voters, it’s the establishment candidate who is the more outspoken conservative.
One example: Bush spoke about improving education for children with developmental challenges. That’s not going to turn off committed conservatives in the primaries, but its main political value is to soften his impression among swing voters come next November.
But his campaign will have to spell out exactly what that means for taxes, health care and so on. (Full disclosure: My wife is an adviser to Bush, although I still plan to criticize him as necessary.)
Recent coverage of Bush has emphasized that his campaign has been rougher going than some of his supporters expected. They should have some perspective. When Bush’s father ran in 1988, he was the sitting vice president and he had won Iowa eight years previously. He still came in third, behind a televangelist, in the caucus.
The party is more entrepreneurial and less royalist than it was then. But Bush was always going to have a struggle. The upside of a rocky few months is that nobody around him can have any illusions about that any more.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.