MIAMI—Jeb Bush likes to think of himself as a high-tech candidate, and his presidential announcement could have fit on Snapchat: “I know we can fix this. Because I’ve done it.” He wrapped that message in a more-than–20-minute speech to raucous supporters packed in the Miami Dade College auditorium. It marked the official admission that he was running for president after six months of activity that looked remarkably similar to campaigning.
Bush’s message was about competence and compassion. He highlighted his time as governor and the results he achieved, and he said that was a template for how he would act as president. He also emphasized the skill set he thinks should shrink the field of contenders. “As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that.”
That was a shot at Sen. Marco Rubio and the other senators. “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.” It was a one-two punch. “We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it.”
That resonated with the audience who remembered him and the kinds of things that only governors could do. “I’m all in for Jeb," said Elaine Lutz, an attendee. She explained that “during the hurricane we were out of power for two weeks. In the dark he was the voice on the radio.”
Vinicio Icabalceta, 24, said, “I prefer Jeb over Marco. Obama showed us what an inexperienced president can do.” He went on to say that he was only attending the rally because his father was a Jeb Bush supporter. He actually preferred a different executive, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who he said was more conservative and who he thought had been a more active fighter in the conservative battles of the past few years. “Bush didn’t even endorse Romney,” he said.
At times Bush’s announcement felt like an effort to blot out all of the mistakes Romney made. In a pre-speech video, a mother attested to Bush’s compassion for those with disabilities, and he was seen hugging a young girl in a wheelchair. A young black woman said Bush’s school-choice policies had allowed her to get an education and go on to college. (School choice was emphasized a lot during the event, a signal to conservatives that he was one of them, despite what they might have heard about his position on Common Core.) He was introduced by a black minister, and a Hispanic singing group warmed up the crowd. When Bush spoke fluently in Spanish, it was not the drive-by Spanish some candidates mangle. It was a fluent couple of paragraphs that seemed fitting given the constant sound of Spanish in conversation throughout the crowd.
This is Jeb Bush’s argument against the other governors. While they might be able to match his executive experience, he can attract minority voters while presenting a more compassionate and appealing image of the Republican Party.
It was a nearly flawless execution of the indoor-rally form. Staffers moved elderly spectators to different seats when it looked like there might be a hole in the audience cameras might catch. Other staffers clapped like they were trying to break walnuts during moments of applause. It wasn’t needed. When Bush announced that he was running for president—the least surprising news on the planet—the audience exploded. They clapped enthusiastically even for lines that offered no obvious reason why they would elicit such a response. Bush, who normally rivals Hillary Clinton in his wooden delivery, has clearly been practicing the set-piece speech, and the practice paid off.
Not everything could be choreographed. At one point, a group of protestors stood up and tried to interrupt. Sitting in a row, their shirts spelled out “Legal Status is Not Enough”—referring to Bush’s immigration position. The crowd responded by trying to drown them out. Bush looked irritated and spoke to the protesters with a flash of anger. “By the way, just so that our friends know, the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform, so that that will be solved—not by executive order!”
Bush also took care of some unfinished business in some of the best-delivered lines of the speech. He addressed the dynasty charge this way: “Not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open—exactly as a contest for president should be.”
In other words, he doesn't expect the nomination to come from anything other than hard work. He nodded to his father and brother in an oblique but charming way. “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 two men were not in attendance to see him make a go at the family business, though his mother was. She once opposed the campaign. She’s on board now.