Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has not been an elected politician this decade, but he made a consequential run for the highest office in the land in 2016, and that’s notable influence.
Bush, the elder statesman of the Republican Party in Florida and near heir-apparent to the Republican nomination for President in 2016, was the national face of the ensuing shift in the Republican Party; one that was unparalleled since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010.
Bush not only had broad name recognition in Florida, one of the nation’s most important swing states in national elections, but also throughout the country thanks to his family’s White House legacy.
His 2016 campaign saw unprecedented sums of money flowing in. In July 2015, Bush’s campaigned announced it had more than $100 million in an affiliated super PAC.
His campaign used that money at first to back his message and attack the more establishment pool of candidates also running, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. When that proved to be ineffective, the campaign tried to take on then-candidate Donald Trump instead.
But the harsh rhetoric and tendency to attack for which Americans are now accustomed from Trump launched with fervor against Bush. Trump successfully reshaped Bush’s image into a “low energy” candidate who didn’t have what it took to take on the issues for which Trump was so successfully rallying a base of support — immigration.
“There’s definitely a message there,” said Peter Dunbar, a Tallahassee government relations lawyer.
That message is complicated, taken as a sum of its parts, but simple in its overall meaning. Could Bush have done better? Most certainly. But his political takedown on the heels of Trump’s rise to popularity through what was emerging as a new form of conservative populism may very well have happened with or without his “please clap” moment of despair.
Still, Bush is left with an important Florida legacy and he remains Florida’s elder statesman.
No modern Florida politician has had more of a lasting impact on public education than Bush. Though some may see that as a bad thing, others rejoice in Bush’s championing of school choice programs that have only since increased since his insistence on them.
Bush paved the way for charter schools. He launched the state’s school voucher program that allows students in poor-performing schools to attend private schools through corporate-funded scholarships. And those school grades parents now rely on when choosing schools for those children? Those came from Bush, too.