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Jeb Bush Starts 2016 Campaign Trying to Calm Skittish Conservatives

4 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush began his quest to become the third in his family to win the Presidency with a speech aimed at convincing skeptical conservatives that he is one of them. But even before he arrived on stage at Miami Dade College, the Republican’s critics were working to undercut his deep-pocketed White House bid.

“We will lift our sights again, make opportunity common again, get events in the world moving our way again,” Bush said. “We will take Washington—the static capital of this dynamic country—out of the business of causing problems.”

That can-do attitude is going to be one of the central arguments why the 62-year-old son of one President and brother to another deserves the nomination. In a speech that will detail how Florida under Bush led the nation in creating jobs and starting new small businesses, Bush also dinged rivals who still have day jobs in Washington and repeat the refrain that is standard in his campaign appearances: “People inside D.C. can’t fix D.C.”

See Jeb Bush's Life in Photos

Jeb Bush Life in Photos
George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, Jan. 1, 1955.Sygma/Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
From left to right: Doro, Marvin, Neil, and Jeb Bush, fall 1963.George Bush Presidential Library
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
From left to right: Doro, George, Jeb, Marvin, George W., Neil, and Barbara Bush, 1966.George Bush Presidential Library
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Jeb Bush (center) was the varsity tennis team captain during his senior year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., 1971. Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
George Bush and his four sons, Neil, Jeb, George W. and Marvin in 1970. Bob E. Daemmrich—Sygma/Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Jeb and Columba Bush on their wedding day, Feb. 23, 1974.George Bush Presidential Library
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Jeb Bush loudly applauds his father, Republican presidential hopeful George Bush, at a campaign rally in Concord, N.H. on Feb. 28, 1980.Frank Lorenzo—Bettmann/Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Vice President George Bush holds a fish with his sons George W. and Jeb during a family vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine in Aug. 1983.Cynthia Johnson—Getty Images
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
From left to right (without children): Neil and Sharon Bush, George W. Bush and wife Laura, Barbara and George Bush, Margaret and Marvin, Bobby Koch and Dorothy, Jeb and Columba, are seen in this Bush family photo taken in Kennebunkport, Maine on Aug. 24, 1986.Dave Valdez—White House/Sygma/Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Jeb Bush plays cards with his son while riding in a recreational vehicle, Nov. 8, 1993.Christopher Little—Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Jeb Bush is interviewed at a Miami Radio Station, WIOD, Mar. 1980. He went on to become Governor of Florida in 1999.Tim Chapman—Getty Images
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
George W. Bush and Jeb Bush at the Republican Governors' Convention in New Orleans, 1998. Nina Berman—SIPA
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Texas governor George W. Bush celebrates good news with his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, while watching the presidential election returns, prior to being elected as President of the United States, inside the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Nov. 7, 2000. Brooks Kraft—Sygma/Corbis
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Republican governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, studies his laptop watching vote returns for his reelection his wife Columba Bush and his parents, former President George Bush and first lady Barbara Bush in Miami on Nov. 5, 2002.Joe Burbank—Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images
Jeb Bush Life in Photos
Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, campaigns around Florida with Governor Jeb Bush, left, Senator Marco Rubio, right, and Congressman Connie Mack, left back of head, in Coral Gables, Fla. on Oct., 31, 2012. Melina Mara—The Washington Post/Getty Images
Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Jeb Bush speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME

The swipe is an acknowledgement that Bush faces challenges from Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is trailing his Senate colleagues in fundraising and polling but he has been making solid appearances before activists—and cable news—that could leave him in a solid understudy position should one of the marquee names stumble.

In national polling, Bush remains in the tight cluster of contenders atop opinion surveys but he faces serious challengers nipping at his heels, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. In fundraising, he remains a formidable candidate although his advisers have signaled that he is expected to fall short of the $100 million goal some in his circle thought was possible to collect before officially launching his campaign. Bush put together a raft of highly regarded consultants and operatives, yet last week he shuffled his team and brought aboard a sharp-elbowed operative to take over as campaign manager.

The campaign launched at a community college that Bush’s critics were quick to point out that he, as Governor, signed a budget that cut funding from the school and resulted in fewer students finding desks. On the stage that Bush was set to begin a presidential bid that has been obvious for the last six months, a banner was ready announced him simply as “Jeb!” in bright red letters. Nowhere was his famous last name visible.

MORE Full Text of Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Campaign Launch

There was, however, no forgetting his family. Former first lady Barbara Bush was traveling from Maine to Florida for the launch. The family’s patriarch, George H.W. Bush, was not, but he remains a revered figure among establishment-minded Republicans with an unrivaled resume in U.S. politics: former President, Vice President, CIA Director, Ambassador and Republican National Committee Chairman. Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, has a trickier relationship with the party. He ended won the Presidency promising to govern as a “compassionate conservative” yet ended his two terms deeply unpopular as the public soured on the war in Iraq that he launched and frustrated about the 2008 economic crisis that consumed his final months in office. A Wall Street bailout may have averted a global financial meltdown but the use of taxpayer dollars prompted conservative outrage and planted the seeds of the anti-establishment tea party movement that now threatens Jeb Bush’s candidacy.

For others inside the party, Jeb Bush’s policy positions on education and immigration fall squarely outside GOP orthodoxy. Ahead of his announcement, conservative activist Brent Bozell told his 7 million online supporters that Bush “is unelectable” and would sacrifice conservatives’ values. “Nominating him will be an exercise in futility—just as it was with Mitt Romney, John McCain and Bob Dole. All three were moderates who wound up losers, and Jeb Bush will be a loser, too, if he’s nominated.”

To them, Bush planned to signal he would not compromise on his support for higher education standards and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system: “I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe.“

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com