For Republican Jeb Bush, little has gone as he had hoped politically, other than raising money.
WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush had a plan for the past six months he spent as an unannounced candidate for president. He would raise tens of millions of dollars, distinguish himself from his brother’s controversial presidency, start winning over conservatives and establish himself as the Republican to beat for his party’s nomination.
Other than raising the money, little has gone as he had hoped. He has been torn between defending and distancing himself from George W. Bush, been unable to assuage party activists uneasy with his immigration and education views, and run into a wall of opposition on the right. And as he prepares to make his candidacy official Monday, he finds himself in a position he could not have imagined: Part of a pack of candidates, and the target of questions about his own competence and conservatism.
Frustrated, according to associates, by elements of his political operation and performance so far, he appointed a new campaign manager last week who is preparing an aggressive new approach to the race. Yet Bush still faces fundamental challenges in appealing to a Republican primary electorate that is much different from the one his father or even his brother faced, a party no longer willing to automatically anoint the pragmatic, well-financed, establishment-aligned candidate that the Bush name personifies.
“He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s candidacy.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Can you have alcohol after the COVID vaccine?
- After leading a 153-person hike in the Grand Canyon, a Washington health-care exec faces federal charges
- Why the world's most vaccinated country is seeing an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases
- 4 ex-cops indicted on US civil rights charges in Floyd death
- Mom who gave birth on flight didn't know she was pregnant
While Bush knows he has to change course in some ways, he also does not want to overreact and risk losing the image of a calm, seasoned leader that he has sought to project, according to several advisers and associates, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They say Bush, having watched negative stories pile up while he focused on fundraising in recent months, wants to move quickly to campaign with voters, especially in New Hampshire.
He is also determined not to change his positions on immigration and education, positions many Republicans loathe; his best alternative, he believes, is to use his record in Florida to appeal to a party that has become more conservative.
“There’s a bias against him — that he’s another Bush, that somehow he’s a moderate — that isn’t fair and that he has to work to overcome,” said Andrew Card Jr., a Bush family friend who was White House chief of staff for Bush’s brother George W. Bush and transportation secretary for their father.
Advisers say his self-certainty and nine years out of politics have caused him to act as his own best adviser. The consequences were evident in his refusal for days to give a straightforward answer about whether he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Only after advisers convinced Bush he was damaging himself did he say he would not have gone into Iraq.
The reshuffled campaign team is aiming to hone Bush’s abilities as a candidate while sharpening its tactics against Republican opponents. Bush’s new campaign manager, Danny Diaz, is widely known as a hard-edge operative who is driven by trying to dominate daily news coverage with his candidate’s message or his rivals’ weaknesses. (The previous manager, David Kochel, is known as more cerebral.)
Diaz, who seared John Kerry in 2004 and Romney in 2007 with charges of flip-flopping on issues, and other Bush aides are determined to develop new lines of attack against Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the two Republicans who represent the greatest threats to Bush’s nomination, according to his advisers and allies.
Bush’s aides and supporters concede that by spending the first half of 2015 focused more on banking money for his “super PAC” than offering a policy vision, he risked his early standing. But it was worth doing, they argued, because so few voters are closely following the race and because Bush’s team is expected to announce a huge fundraising sum in July that will far outstrip his rivals and, they hope, give him momentum
In his kickoff speech Monday at a Miami-area community college, Bush is set to extol an aspirational and inclusive brand of conservative politics, make the case for projecting U.S. power abroad, criticize Hillary Rodham Clinton — who gave a big campaign speech Saturday — and recount his accomplishments as Florida governor to highlight the paucity of what he believes are needed improvements in Washington, D.C.