“JEB CAN FIX IT,” read the faux-homemade sign behind Jeb Bush. If you missed the message, the same words were printed in a more professional, campaign-style sign, affixed to Bush’s podium this morning in Tampa.
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“It,” a viewer or a voter is to presume, is our political system. Jeb Bush’s campaign theme is and has always been about that “it,” that it takes a Bush – more specifically, Jeb! – to fix the mess voters believe the country has found itself in.
But the fix-it list has grown for Bush since the long-ago time of his campaign announcement. He’ll have to fix his debate performances, his campaign structure, and calculations about his path to the nomination before he can hope to recapture enthusiasm about his candidacy.
There’s something bigger Bush hopes to fix that is inherently problematic for him. He needs to fix what the 2016 campaign has become, and make it into what he has always hoped it would be.
“This election is not about a set of personalities,” Bush said, somewhat hopefully. “It’s about a set of principles.”
It has also been about, in part, the master-apprentice relationship between Bush and Marco Rubio, whom his campaign team sees as his biggest ultimate obstacle to the GOP nomination. When it has been about Bush, it’s been about his last name far more than his first.
The campaign to date has not been about the principles of leadership that Bush wants it to be about, at least not yet. He is casting himself as a serious candidate at a distinctly unserious time in politics.
“Getting things done isn’t about yelling into a camera, or regurgitating sound bites free of substance,” Bush continued. “The campaign trail is littered with candidates disguised as television critics. Politicians echoing poll-tested pabulum. But leadership is something far different.”
Bush was effective and compelling today in telling an engaged crowd about his accomplishments in Florida. He has a campaign team and a war chest that can allow him to compete under any candidate in any traditional understanding of how a Republican nominating race plays out.
But it has appeared at times that Bush is playing a different game.
He’s written a book about his emails with constituents when he was governor; the emailing candidate, in this Twitter-driven age. Even the exclamation point is old-school, in a hashtag era.
It may be that Bush, 62, is waiting for the game he wants to play to finally start. He once anticipated a battle over conservative bona fides and records that would pit him against Rubio and other establishment candidates in the Gov. John Kasich mold – the kinds of candidates Republicans have typically coalesced around in the past.
For the day, at least, the frustration with the process that has boiled over from Bush was gone. On his own terms, talking about his own campaign, he seemed closer than he has been in recent weeks to campaigning with “joy in my heart,” as he likes to say.
“Our story is about action. Doing, not just talking. Listening, not just lecturing,” Bush said. “That is my story.”
Bush’s next chapter has begun. His challenge will be to write a sunnier ending than the one this election cycle seems geared to deliver him.