Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said Sunday that he will base his decision on whether to run for president in 2016 on whether he thinks he can mount a campaign that would transcend the modern-day mechanics of such a run.
Bush, the second-oldest son of former president George H. W. Bush and younger brother of George W. Bush, spoke at an event marking the 25th anniversary of his father's presidency at the library and museum that bears the patriarch's name. The event was closed to reporters, but moderated by Fox News anchor Shannon Bream and portions of the event were later broadcast on the Fox News Channel.
In a rambling answer that suggested he has given serious thought to the prospects of running for a job once held by his father and brother, Bush said he would decide whether to run for president by the end of this year. He appeared to bemoan the thought of having to spend time attending political cattle calls in early-primary states, suggesting that some candidates might devote too much time to questions such as, "How am I going to get to win the Muscatine Pork Roast straw poll, or something like that."
Bush said he ultimately would base his decision on whether a candidate can "run with a hopeful, optimistic message, hopefully with enough detail to give people a sense that it’s not just idle words and not get back into the vortex of the mud fight."
"In my case, that means can one do it joyfully without being tied to all the convention of the here and now?" he added.
Family considerations will also play a prominent role, he said, especially whether running a campaign would be a "huge sacrifice."
"I just don’t want to go through that until the right time," he added later. "And it turns out that not running has generated more interest than if I said I was running. It’s kind of weird. I’m not that smart, I promise you, it just kind of happened that way."
Bush's extended comments came as many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft the former governor into the 2016 presidential race. Prominent donors and conservative leaders have been courting Bush and his aides and begun plotting a potential fundraising strategy. The outreach has come as top GOP operatives believe that the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal has damaged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political standing and that Bush is now the GOP’s brightest hope to win back the White House.
Bush called Christie a "spectacular guy" and said he hoped that Republicans would focus on nominating "candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader and candidates that are organized around winning the election; not making a point. Winning the election should be what we’re about. Winning allows the big things to get solved. Winning gets the country back on track, in my mind. The candidates that have that bigger visions and can connect well."
Before giving an answer about a presidential run, Bush weighed in on immigration reform and education policy and on both subjects clearly distinguished himself from the opinions of other potential GOP presidential candidates.
On immigration, he said that many of those who illegally come to the United States do so out of an "act of love" for their families and should be treated differently than people who illegally cross U.S. borders or overstay visas. He said that a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate last year made "a good effort" at proposing ways to ensure that people overstaying visas leave the country.
"A great country ought to know where those folks are and politely ask them to leave," he said, adding later that properly targeting people who overstay visas "would restore people's confidence" in the nation's immigration system.
But most people who illegally enter the United States do so "because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table," Bush said. "And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
On education, Bush defended the Common Core education standards that he has championed in recent years. He noted that 45 state governors committed to the program and that education standards have improved in those states. But tea party groups, concerned about the nationalization of education standards, have been pressuring Republican governors to reconsider their support of the program. Under pressure, state lawmakers and members of Congress have since introduced legislation that would at least temporarily block the standards. Some states have kept the standards but slapped new names on the policies.
On Sunday Bush insisted that "I’m totally committed" to Common Core.
"I guess I’ve been out of office for awhile," he said. "So the idea that something I support that people are opposed to, it means that I have to stop supporting it if there’s not any reason based on fact to do that? I just -- maybe it’s stubbornness, but I just don’t seem compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country. And others have, others that supported the standards all of a sudden now are opposed to it. I don’t get it. High standards matter, and I hope that people rejoin in the effort to try to persuade people that this is the right thing to do."