Political pundits from coast to coast declared Jeb Bush‘s presidential campaign all but dead Wednesday night after his desultory performance in the third GOP debate, from Boulder, Colorado.
The Economist wrote that,”(I)t is hard to see him coming back into contention now.”
“It was do or die. And Bush died,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Boulle.
Bush obviously believes reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated, but it’s not one to say his campaign is struggling. Although they may have already been scheduled, having three events in Florida on Monday will doubtless boost his confidence.
Speaking to a crowd of 300 to 400 at the Tampa Garden Club off Bayshore Boulevard, Bush compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, if Lincoln had campaigned during the age of cable news pundits.
“Advisers telling him to shave his beard,” he mused. “Cable pundits telling him to lose the top hat. Opposition researchers calling him a five-time loser before the age of 50.”
Bush used that as a segue to the criticism he’s receive, in his case along stylistic lines.
“Take off the suit coat. Ditch the glasses … Some advice is more strategic. Nail that zinger. Be angrier. Hide your inner wonk.
“But I have learned two important things from my time serving the people of Florida,” he said. “One, I can’t be someone I’m not. And, two, getting things done isn’t about yelling into a camera, or regurgitating sound bites free of substance. The campaign trail is littered with candidates disguised as television critics. Politicians echoing poll-tested pabulum.”
Bush said leadership wasn’t about telling people what they want to hear, but what they must hear. “It’s not about saying the right thing, but doing the right thing.”
Those lines were all met with unbridled enthusiasm.
Bush’s 22-minute speech was one of three events scheduled: Stops in Orlando and Jacksonville were to follow. It comes on the day of the publication of his new book, “Reply All,” a compendium of email correspondence he had with Florida voters during his time in office.
“It wasn’t something I could have predicted at the start of my time in office, but this eight-year conversation with Florida shaped my governorship,” he said. “So, in writing my book, I used my email exchanges to tell the Florida story. To tell about the work to turn one of America’s largest states into an economic engine where people could live, work and raise their family in safety and security.”
Some say that Bush is staking too much of his campaign on what he in Florida more than a decade ago. That he’s too focused on the past, and not about the future.
“I think he’s said that enough,” conceded Tampa resident Joe Steem. “Everybody knows that he was governor of Florida and did a good job. But he did start to look forward today.”
Bush had several passages in the speech denigrating President Barack Obama. But he said Democrats had been successful in setting “a trap” for Republicans.
“On the issue of immigration, they have written a script for Republicans, filled with grievance and resentment,” Bush said. “Frankly, the last thing they want is a Republican challenger who takes them out of their comfort zone of forced indignation and PC platitudes. But let me be clear: I’m not stepping into the role of ‘angry agitator’ that they have created for us, because it’s not what’s in my heart. It is not true to the conservative cause. And, in the end, that role is just a bit part in the story of another conservative loss and another liberal victory.”
Bush appeared to be taking aim at Marco Rubio, and definitely at Donald Trump, saying, “The answer isn’t sending someone from one side of the capital city to the other.” he said. The solution won’t be found in someone who has never demonstrated the capacity to implement conservative ideas.”
“And you can’t just tell Congress … ‘You’re Fired’ … and go to a commercial break.”
Before the speech, Orlando resident William R. King, 78, acknowledged that this has been a “different campaign.”
“I’ve been in politics all my life,” he said. “He needs to address where Americans are today. This is not the same as every other campaign.”
Mark Proctor is vice chairman of the Bush campaign in Hillsborough County. He said Bush must focus on what he’ll do for the average voter in 2017. “It can be a slogan, it can be a statement,” he said. “I think it could be something that’s very effective: ‘I was a great governor 10 years ago, but now this is what I want to do for the country.'”
The campaign does have that statement now. It’s called “Let Jeb fix it.”
“After seven years of incompetence, corruption and gridlock in Washington, we need a president who can fix it,” Bush said. “I can fix it. After seven years of historic cuts to our military … a foreign policy based on leading from behind…the emboldening of our enemies and the isolation of our allies…we need a president who fixes America’s standing abroad. I can fix it. After seven years of massive deficits, historic debt, and a president who vetoes defense spending because he wants more reckless spending, we need a president who fixes our budgetary mess. I can fix it.
“I know I can fix it … because I’ve done it.”
He later said that he was a change agent in Tallahassee, and “turned the political culture of Tallahassee upside down.”
“I’m putting The Beltway on notice. I’ll turn Washington upside down, too.”
But can the son of the 41st president of the U.S. and the brother of the 43rd inspire Republican voters to follow suit?