Jeb Bush attempted to reboot his campaign Monday morning with a new book, a new slogan and a new campaign tour. But he pledged he would not bow to critics who want more fundamental changes.
“I am running this campaign on my own terms,” the former Florida governor told an audience in Tampa, Fla. “And let me tell you something: When the dust clears, and the delegates are counted, we are going to win this campaign.”
He acknowledged that his performance in last week’s debate drew widespread criticism. But he bemoaned the culture of “yelling into a camera or regurgitating sound bites free of substance” and insisted “Americans are looking for a president, not a pundit; a leader and not a protester.”
The attempt to reboot amid criticism, with an emphasis on results as a governor is reminiscent of the latter days of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign. Like Bush, Walker, who dropped out of the race in September, seemed caught off guard by the angry and frustrated mood of the Republican electorate.
But unlike Walker, who tried to adapt some of Donald Trump’s rhetorical style, Bush vowed to stay the course.
Bush sought the comfort of his home state to launch what his campaign was calling the “Jeb Can Fix It” tour, a slogan that could also be taken as reassurance that his campaign is not beyond repair.
The tour was intended to emphasize his core strength – the eight years he spent leading Florida from 1999 through 2007 as a conservative governor. But in describing the book he was releasing Monday, based on his many email exchanges with constituents, he implicitly reminded voters how much time had passed by invoking one of his old nicknames: “The e-governor.”
A day before Bush even spoke Monday, Trump mocked him on Twitter: “… Stupid message, the word ‘fix’ is not a good one to use in politics!”
The effort to reboot comes as Bush remains mired in the second tier of candidates, both nationally and in key states. A new Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire voters released Monday, for example, found him in sixth place behind Trump, Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio and closely bunched with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Bush’s book and campaign slogan are intended to introduce Bush’s hands-on leadership style to the country, which may know him more for his name than his actual governing experience. In addition to describing his battles with teachers’ unions, his tax cuts, and his vetoes of spending bills, Bush took time in Monday’s speech to talk about a woman who complained she had a raccoon in her attic.
“What are you going to do about it?” she asked.
Bush responded, he said, by calling her town manager.
“By noon that raccoon was out,” he said.
Bush’s speech featured sharp criticism of President Obama’s tenure in office. But he said the moment called for proven leadership, taking veiled shots at three of his top competitors: Trump (“You can’t just tell Congress, ‘You’re fired’”), Rubio (“The answer isn’t sending someone from one side of the capital city to the other”) and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (“The solution won’t be found in someone who has never demonstrated the capacity to implement conservative ideas.”)
Bush tried to harness some of the frustration with Washington by pledging to “turn Washington upside down” as he said he had done with Tallahassee.
But the core of Monday’s message was a more defiant defense of his own style, which has generated criticism that it lacks passion or charisma. He said he would not “ditch the glasses” or “take off the suit coat,” and wore a purple striped tie that he said had been mocked.
“I like that tie,” he said. “It only cost 20 bucks.”
He implicitly compared himself with Abraham Lincoln, decrying “the foolishness he would have to suffer” were he alive today, with cable pundits telling him to shave the beard or ditch the top hat.
“I can’t be someone I’m not,” he said.
For more on Campaign 2016, follow @noahbierman.