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Jeb Bush sharpens elbows as GOP presidential field grows crowded

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A hallmark of the White House pre-campaign of Jeb Bush has been a genteel, understated approach. Jeb, the most erudite of the Bushes and the proverbial “adult in the room” among the supposed bomb-throwers and firebrands in the 2016 Republican field was not known for singeing his rivals, other than his Democratic bête noire Hillary Clinton.

That’s changing as more candidates–recently former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Gov. John Kasich–are announcing or eyeing bids, writes Ed O’Keefe in Thursday’s Washington Post:

Bush is not yet an official presidential candidate, but he suggested that others already in the race are being needlessly combative and that the eventual GOP presidential nominee should be “hopeful and optimistic instead of grumpy and kind of reactionary.”

“I think a lot of leaders in public life or aspiring leaders get overwhelmed by the here and now; they change their views because they’re trying to mirror the sentiments of the time. And they get lost,” he said at one point.

“The president is more than just a head of parliament; he’s also the symbol of our country in many ways,” he added later. “So honoring our country by serving in a way that becomes a model for others is another element of this that I think people that aspire to the presidency really need to take seriously.”

Tough words indeed from a former governor known for throwing his weight around when he led Florida’s state government. But as he makes his case as both the establishment candidate and the most effective conservative in the race, expect the pugilistic rhetoric to keep on coming:

…Bush stood by his support for Common Core standards: “If Alabama wants to change those standards, I think they have every right to do it. I would just encourage Alabama to raise those standards even higher.”

And he said that he believes President Obama’s executive actions to change immigration laws will be eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. He reiterated that he backs “a path to earned legal status, not citizenship, but earned legal status. Where people get a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work, they don’t receive federal government assistance and they — over extended period of time — they earn legal status.”

Bush said he welcomed the opportunity to explain his views on both subjects “because I find it interesting that people who share that view — rather than stick with the view and try to persuade people about it — in many cases have actually abandoned their views. I think the next president is going to have tougher times dealing with these issues than dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. If we’re going to bend with the wind, then it’ll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems.”

That could be seen as a knock on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who have both distanced themselves from previous advocacy for bipartisan immigration reform.

As he travels the country ahead of a formal campaign launch, Bush frequently bemoans “talk” and “yap” in Washington as a way to contrast his gubernatorial record against the scant legislative accomplishments of Congress in recent years — and thus the GOP lawmakers running for president. He did it again on Wednesday night.

“I want to win. I want our party to win. I want the next president to be a Republican, to be a conservative,” he said. “We can talk about things until the sun goes down, we can yap about things all the time, we can say how bad things are, but we need to win. And that means winning in places where Republicans haven’t won recently.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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