Jeb Bush's campaign announcement speech was pretty good, I thought. The biggest problem was that it was delivered by a candidate named Bush.
The core of Bush's message was simple: Democrats haven't delivered. "They have offered a progressive agenda that includes everything but progress," Bush raged. "They are responsible for the slowest economic recovery ever, the biggest debt increases ever, a massive tax increase on the middle class, the relentless buildup of the regulatory state, and the swift, mindless drawdown of a military that was generations in the making."
The problem? Bushes haven't delivered either. That slow economic recovery Bush mentions was the product of one of the deepest economic crashes in American history — a crash presided over by Jeb's brother, George W. Bush. That runup in debt? It also began under his brother. The red tape Bush loathes? According to OMB Watch, the Bush administration published new regulations at about the same clip as the Obama administration:
Bush's kicker is meant to be brutal. "I, for one, am not eager to see what another four years would look like under that kind of leadership," he says. But it is trivially easy to reverse the line. Is the country really so eager to see another four years under the kind of leadership that preceded the Obama administration?
Of course, Bush would say, correctly, that he isn't his brother. He isn't responsible for his brother's administration. He's his own man. And in this speech, Bush tried to subtly distance himself from his brother's record, lamenting "all the families who haven't gotten a raise in 15 years." But as Ramesh Ponnuru writes, that begs a follow-up question: why didn't people get raises during the last Republican administration?
So far, Bush hasn't delivered much of an answer for that one. He's gently criticized government spending under his brother's administration — "I think he let the Republican Congress get a little out of control in terms of the spending," he said on CBS — but that's not even a remotely plausible explanation for the economic failures of the Bush years. And more tellingly, many of Jeb Bush's economic advisers were also key voices in his brother's administration.
An easy way for Bush to distance himself from his brother would be to propose a sharply different policy agenda. But there was no sign of it in his speech. Bush's platform, like his brother's, will focus heavily on budget-busting tax cuts and promises of deregulation and deficit reduction. It is easy to imagine the ads splicing the two Bush campaigns together, and reminding Americans they have heard these promises before.
The prospect has Republicans worried, too. In Slate, conservative columnist Reihan Salam greeted Bush's announcement with a column begging him to drop out of the race.
Bush can't attack the past without attacking himself...but Marco Rubio can
Bush's line of attack on Clinton is natural: he wants to connect her to the failures of the previous administration. But it's a line of attack that damns Bush as surely as it damns Clinton.
Indeed, it might damn Bush more surely than it damns Clinton. The 4 percent economic growth Bush promised can't be found during Obama's presidency, but it also can't be found under either of the presidencies run by a man named Bush. Instead, the last time America saw 4 percent growth was under Bill Clinton — and as my colleague Matt Yglesias writes, "his services as an adviser are already spoken for."
Perhaps Bush could try to argue that the Clinton boom was partially the result of President George H. W. Bush's deficit reduction. There's a good case to be made that that's true — but H. W. Bush was only able to reduce the deficit so sharply by raising taxes, and there's little chance Jeb Bush will endorse that stratagem.
Bush wants to force Hillary Clinton to defend Barack Obama's record, but she has the advantage — particularly on domestic policy — of being more closely connected to Bill Clinton's. Meanwhile, Bush's demands that Clinton answer for past presidencies will ensure that he is held to the same standard — and at the moment, he doesn't have good answers.
I don't mean to be too hard on Bush. His speech was well-written and well-delivered. It was particularly affecting when, toward the end, Bush said, "I intend to let everyone hear my message, including the many who can express their love of country in a different language," and then transitioned into fluent Spanish. And when Bush was interrupted by an immigration protestor, he said what the Republican Party needs Hispanic voters to believe: that he would pass immigration reform.
But for that reason, Bush's speech had the unintended effect of making me more bullish on Marco Rubio, who brings many of Bush's political strengths but is free of his most serious weakness.