Speaking before a crowd of screaming students and community members at Miami Dade College on Monday, Jeb Bush laid out his basic agenda for his presidential campaign. As expected, the on-script message sounded like pure conservatism.
Until, that is, some protesters gave Jeb the chance to go off-script on immigration reform.
Neither George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush came to the speech, but his mother, Barbara, did. With the crowd chanting, “Let’s go, Jeb!” the bureaucratically-styled Jeb took to the stage, wearing a button-down shirt unbuttoned at the collar. The applause was rousing; the signs in the background with his ubiquitous red “Jeb!” and “¡Jeb!” posters showed up well on camera.
Then Jeb began to speak. He appeared soft-spoken, but tight and uncomfortable as he stated that everyone has the “right to rise.” Then he let loose with a barrage of conservative rhetoric. He said Democrats planned “a no-suspense primary for a no-change election…to slog on with the same agenda under another name.” He continued, “That’s all they’ve got left…they offer a progressive agenda that offers everything but progress.” He added, “The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next…our country is on a very bad course, and the question is, what are we going to do about it?” He said that he had decided what he was going to do: run for president.
Then he began stumbling. He fumbled through his key line: “We will take Washington — this static capital of this dynamic country — out of the business of causing problems.” He launched into a litany of great accomplishments in Florida, a state that “looks like America.” He pledged to get the economy moving at “full strength,” and specifically said it would grow at 4% annually, creating 19 million new jobs. He ripped overregulation, stating it “has gone far past the consent of the governed,” and suggesting “It is time to start making rules for the rule-makers.” He promised “solvency instead of borrowed money” and the “strength of fiscal integrity.”
Oddly enough, Bush — the ultimate insider’s insider — said that he would be a reformer: “We don’t need another president who merely holds the top spot among the pampered elites of Washington. We need a president willing to challenge and disrupt the whole culture in our nation’s capital. I will be that president because I was a reforming governor, not just another member of the club.”
That reference came complete with a slap at Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY): “There’s no passing off responsibility when you’re a governor, no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success. As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that.”
Then Jeb moved on to the more substantive portion of his speech. He didn’t mention Common Core, and his support for the federal standards program, but he did carefully word his position on federal government involvement in local education: “Every school should have high standards, and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them.” That’s a far cry from his statement on Common Core, “standards are different than curriculum.” He focused more on school choice than federal standards, naturally.
The strongest point of his speech came when Bush rightly slammed Hillary Clinton directly when it came to her hatred for religious freedom:
Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary those beliefs, quote, “have to be changed.” That’s what she said, and I guess we should at least thank her for the warning. The most galling example is the shabby treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Christian charity that dared to voice objections of conscience to Obamacare. The next president needs to make it clear that great charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor need no federal instruction in doing the right thing. It comes down to a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother, and I’m going with the Sisters.
He also said he would build up the military, and directly ripped President Obama for bringing up the Crusades when Americans “are dealing abroad with modern horrors committed by fanatics.” Notice the careful omission of any reference to Islam.
“With their phone-it-in foreign policy, the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling,” he concluded.
Bush spoke of rebuilding relations with Israel, and said he would stand against Cuba. And then he finally dropped the family credentials:
And in this country of ours, the most improbable things can happen. Take that from a guy who met his first president on the day he was born, and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital. The person who handled both introductions is here today. She’s watching what I say – and frankly, with all these reporters around, I’m watching what she says. Please say hello to my wonderful Mom, Barbara Bush.
Although he would later buy back the family reference (“It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open — exactly as a contest for president should be.”), that was the beginning of Bush’s shift from conservative rhetoric to general election material.
Bush picked Miami Dade College because of its proximity to his home base, as well as the fact that Miami Dade College awards more associate degrees to Hispanics and blacks than any other college in the country.
And he wasn’t about to let those optics go to waste.
When protesters began chanting, “Legal status is not enough!,” Bush fired back, “The next president will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved, not by executive order.” That got a huge cheer from the crowd.
Bush later launched into his story of meeting his wife, who hails from Mexico:
I found my own path. It led from Texas to Miami by way of Mexico.
In 1971, 8 years before then-candidate Ronald Reagan said that we should stop thinking of our neighbors as foreigners, I was ahead of my time in cross-border outreach. Across a plaza, I saw a girl. She spoke only a little English. My Spanish was okay but not that great. With some intensive study, we got that barrier out of the way in a hurry. In the short version, it has been a gracious walk through the years with the former Columba Garnica de Gallo.
He then continued for two full paragraphs in Spanish, which he prefaced by stating he wanted everyone to understand his love of his country, no matter the language:
Ayúdenos en tener una campaña que les da la bienvenida. Trabajen con nosotros por los valores que compartimos y para un gran futuro que es nuestro para construir para nosotros y nuestros hijos. Júntense a nuestra causa de oportunidad para todos, a la causa de todos que aman la libertad y a la causa noble de los Estados Unidos de América.
Roughly translated, Bush asked Hispanics to help make the campaign more welcoming, to use shared values to generate a better future, and to gather around the cause of opportunity and freedom.
The speech was professional; it was also professionally non-responsive, except for Bush’s passionate, from-the-heart outburst over immigration reform. That should be the giveaway for so many Republicans: when he’s on script, Jeb’s a conservative with rhetoric no different than Ted Cruz’s. When he’s off-script, Jeb turns against conservative policy in a heartbeat.
We’ve seen him on script. Now that he’s part of the campaign, we’ll see him off-script, too.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.