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Jeb Bush

Out of the running Last modified: February 20, 2016

John Ellis “Jeb” Bush began as a leading contender for the Republican nomination in 2016, owing in part to what is generally considered to be a successful tenure as governor of Florida, a broadly conservative record likely to appeal to Republican voters, and the strength of and respect for the Bush family name in Republican politics. He later fell to the middle of the pack and has struggled to revive his campaign.

By and large considered a neo-conservative in the mold of his brother, former President George W. Bush, the former governor of Florida is a distinct candidate in several respects. Most noteworthy, Hispanic outreach has been a linchpin of Jeb Bush’s career. In addition to speaking fluent Spanish, he graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Latin American affairs, and he traveled abroad to teach English in Mexico as part of an exchange program.

As governor, Bush focused on school reform, including advocating for a generous school voucher program. He has supported free trade, been a staunch opponent of Obamacare, and expressed skepticism of climate change as a man-made phenomenon. He has also supported construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and favored free markets over regulation.

Bush shares his family’s philosophy of endeavoring to build bridges across party lines. A sometime critic of the Tea Party movement, he has urged Republicans to work with Democrats to address landmark issues, immigration in particular. This approach has garnered praise from establishment Republicans while rankling grassroots activists. Bush has made overtures to the latter group, softening his tone on immigration.

Bush’s staff includes a mix of long-time advisers and high-profile strategists. Sally Bradshaw has been compared to Karl Rove in terms of her relationship to Jeb Bush as a political counselor. She served as his chief of staff in the governor’s office and helped him get many of his policy priorities through the Florida legislature.1 Mike Murphy has worked for both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain, both of whom went on to secure the Republican nomination. Kristy Campbell, who serves as Bush’s spokesperson, is also a former Romney aide.

While Bush has many strong qualities as a candidate, there is some question whether Republicans and general election voters are ready for “another President Bush.” While his record is generally consistent with conservative ideas in the areas of free markets, national security and American exceptionalism, his position on immigration is likely to draw scrutiny from conservative voters in the nomination process, as is the general perception that Bush is closer to “establishment” rather than grassroots activists and those who might challenge party insiders.

Bush began as one of the top candidates for the GOP nomination but has failed to live up to expectations. His fundraising has been good compared with most of his rivals’, but he has not proven himself to be the formidable fundraiser many thought he would be, and while the independent super PAC backing his bid for the White House has raised far more than those of his rivals, its spending to date has not significantly bolstered his standing in the polls.

His campaign may have received a needed boost in the New Hampshire primary, where he finished fourth out of nine candidates and, most importantly, ahead of one of his key rivals. He remains a viable candidate and has the potential to emerge as an establishment favorite, but he now must build on a good-but-not-great finish in New Hampshire with a strong showing in South Carolina if he wants to remain competitive.

Background dropdown arrow

One of five children born to former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, Jeb is part of one of America’s most prominent political dynasties. His older brother, George W. Bush, preceded Barack Obama as a two-term president.

Like much of his family, Bush got a relatively late start in politics. An attendee of the prestigious Phillips Academy, he is married to Columba Bush, whom he met while in Mexico on a high school foreign exchange program teaching English.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Latin American studies, having completed his degree in just two and a half years.2

In addition to his educational background, he speaks fluent Spanish.

After graduating, Bush went to work for Texas Commerce Bank, an opportunity he received through James Baker, an old family friend who would go on to become his father’s secretary of state. In this capacity, he worked on developing operations in South America.

In 1980, he moved to Florida, where he would eventually become the state’s first two-term Republican governor. His political career began when he served as chairman of the Dade County Republican Party.  From there, he was appointed Florida’s secretary of commerce by then-Gov. Bob Martinez.

In 1994, Bush unsuccessfully ran for governor.

In 1998, Bush mounted his first successful bid for governor. Buoyed by a new image as a bridge builder, he actively pursued minority voters, especially within Florida’s large Hispanic community, among which he won an impressive 61 percent of the vote3

As governor, Bush continued to make Hispanic outreach a priority, while also working to reform the state’s failing public education system. He earned plaudits for his handling of a particularly rough hurricane season in 2004.

Unlike most of his family, Bush is a professed Catholic, having converted from the Anglican Church. He presently attends Church of the Epiphany in Miami and belongs to the Knights of Columbus.

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Character dropdown arrow

As governor, Bush made good on his campaign commitments to reduce taxes and reform education in the state. His efforts to oppose high-speed rail and address affirmative action in the state drew a flurry of criticism, but he stood firm on both issues. While spending remained relatively stagnant during his first term, it grew substantially during his second.4

Bush’s business dealings have attracted criticism from opponents and pundits alike. By his own admission, he traded on the family name to garner access to exclusive social circles and prime business deals. More than most politicians, Jeb has spent substantial time and effort in the private sector.

More recently, Bush has received millions for his work for Tenet Healthcare, which stands to see substantial revenues resulting from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. While he has made his opposition to the ACA clear, he has pledged to keep his private views distinct from the business interests of Tenet.5

Bush’s advocacy of the Central American Free Trade Act came over the objections of Florida sugar growers, a powerful political force in the state.6

By and large, Bush governed in accordance with his campaign rhetoric. He was not afraid to reform key entitlements, such as Medicaid, and was persistent in taking on union interests related to transportation and, of course, education. He has long taken a stand different than most of his party on immigration, but he has also won the support of Democrats for many of his reform initiatives.

On foreign policy, Bush’s philosophy remains essentially unchanged. He has consistently supported neoconservative causes, having joined the Project for a New American Century in 1997. More recently, he has taken a strong stance against ISIS, called for a stronger position with regard to Iran, and supported free trade, especially in South America. There have been few deviations in these positions over the years, though he has had limited opportunity to guide policy on these matters.

Bush’s early business associates and clients have drawn scrutiny, including a man called an “infamous Medicare swindler”7 and an anti-Castro Cuban terrorist,8 suggesting a lack of judgment regarding with whom to do business.

Bush seems to have worked hard to implement his agenda and stick to his principles, although there are always inevitable shortcomings. There are few obvious character flaws apparent from Bush’s history, although as a member of the Bush family and someone seen as connected with traditional Republican establishment figures, there are few obvious signs he has gone out of his way to challenge party insiders or influential interest groups.

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Bush has been a highly sought-after speaker in the past, giving numerous speeches to industry groups, local chambers of commerce, and health care conferences. Pundits on both sides of the aisle have long lauded Bush’s political savvy and strong speaking skills, often contrasting them with those of his presidential brother.9

But despite Bush’s reputation for being a skilled communicator, he has made a number of verbal stumbles on the campaign trail, such as first saying he would have made the same decision as his brother President George W. Bush in invading Iraq, then said he wouldn’t answer the question because it was a hypothetical, and finally clarified that he would not have authorized the invasion if he had been president and known then what is known today.10 He also said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion for women’s health programs” in comments supporting cutting funding for Planned Parenthood11 and suggested the term “anchor baby”  was primarily about “Asian people.”12 He struggled in the early debates, often being overshadowed by more forceful personalities and delivering relatively tepid responses to his rivals and to questions from moderators.13 His more recent debate performances have been much better.

Bush has written numerous pieces for national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal14 and the Washington Times.15 He has also made numerous national television appearances, and has generally remained in the spotlight in the eight years since his tenure as governor. In addition to immigration, he has been a leading voice on free trade, right-to-work, and economic deregulation.

On education, Bush is seen as a national leader advocating for reform. From 2004 to 2007, Bush served as a board member for the National Assessment Governing Board. The board works to influence policy through reports examining academic progress in K-12 schools throughout America.16

As governor, Bush pioneered the “A+” plan, which graded schools on the basis of student test scores. The plan recently turned 15 years old, and Bush has been vocal in promoting its success in improving student outcomes.

On this issue, he has also found support from the black community. In co-founding Liberty City Charter School, he worked alongside T. Willard Fair, a renowned black activist and head of the Greater Miami Urban League.17 Other states have begun to implement components of Bush’s “A+” plan, with positive results.

Bush received high marks for his handling of a series of devastating hurricanes in the 2004 season. The focus of extensive, favorable media coverage, he was considered a pivotal figure in his brother’s successful bid to win the state of Florida in 2004. Within the state, 84 percent of voters rated Jeb Bush’s handling of the hurricanes as excellent or good.18

Because of his positions on immigration and Common Core, Bush may have trouble with many grassroots conservatives, although his position on social issues seems likely to please this key constituency. He was generally well received in his 2015 appearance at CPAC, a conservative gathering featuring many potential 2016 candidates.19

There was a small walkout by some tea party activists, however, suggesting Bush has work to do to if he hopes to gain the full support of limited-government activists.

Bush has been able to make major inroads with the Hispanic community, building coalitions that many other Republicans struggle with. In some part his success with Hispanic outreach is a result of his being seen as a leader on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.20

He is noted for having won the majority of the Puerto Rican vote en route to a successful 2002 re-election bid. In one of the more notoriously “purple” states in the country, Bush handily won two successive elections to governor, with 55 percent of the vote (in 1998) and 56 percent (in 2002) respectively.21

Bush has shown himself over more than two decades in public life to be an effective communicator, able to build coalitions that can help him advance his public policy aims, skills that would serve him well on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office. It has been more than a decade since he ran for office, however, and his flubbed response regarding the Iraq invasion suggests he will need to sharpen his skills to avoid future embarrassing gaffes.

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Free Markets dropdown arrow


Bush unveiled his tax reform proposal in September 2010, which featured elimination of most deductions for individuals and businesses in exchange for lower rates. Personal income tax rates would be 10, 25, and 28 percent, compared to the current rates ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent.22 The standard deduction would be doubled, removing approximately 15 million lower-income Americans from the tax rolls, the deduction for state and local taxes would be eliminated, and other deductions would be capped at 2 percent of gross income.23 The “carried interest” tax preference taxing certain investment income as capital gains instead of regular income would be eliminated.24 He would also lower corporate taxes to 20 percent while eliminating the taxation of profits earned overseas (although a one-time tax of 8.75 percent would be applied to earnings currently held overseas).25 His corporate tax reforms would preserve the tax credit for research and development, allow full expensing of capital investments, and eliminate the deduction for interest payments.26

As governor Bush had the record of a tax cutter and reduced the tax burden in Florida by $19 billion, including repeal of a tax on investments.27 He opposed attempts to increase taxes and has characterized his approach to economic freedom as the “right to rise.” He supported the extension of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, often called the “Bush tax cuts,” referring to his brother. 28

Testifying before the U.S. Congress in 2012, Jeb Bush noted that many tax policies give advantages to favored companies and industries while disadvantaging other companies, and called for a reduction in tax expenditures in favor of cuts to tax rates.29

Budget & Spending

Bush did not sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge in any of his three campaigns for governor.

Bush was critical of President Obama’s comments surrounding the budget sequestration, referring to them as “crying wolf” and trying to convince people the effects of budget cuts would be draconian.30 As governor, Bush vetoed $2 billion in spending, much of it the pet projects or earmarks of legislators that hadn’t been requested by his administration. He has called for a federal balanced budget amendment, line-item veto power for the president, and a federal hiring freeze.31 He has pledged to cut the federal bureaucracy by 10 percent as president.32

Bush has not been afraid to spend taxpayer dollars in an effort to improve his state. During his eight years as governor, spending increased by 45 percent overall as general fund spending increased by 57 percent, from $18.0 billion to $28.2 billion. It should be noted that, during his tenure, the population of Florida increased by 16 percent, while inflation grew 24 percent.33

On his second day in office, Jeb Bush halted taxpayer funding for a high-speed rail project that was widely regarded by most conservatives as a boondoggle and waste of money. The legislature responded by putting the bullet train on the ballot, which passed, and construction was to commence in 2003. But Bush vetoed a bill to fund construction and staff to oversee the project. The issue made national headlines, and Bush launched a successful campaign to repeal the ballot issue.34


According to the AFL-CIO, by 2005 he had entered into 140 contracts with private entities to perform services previously performed by state employees.

Bush has advocated numerous partnerships between the public and private sector, often a breeding ground for “crony capitalism.” In addition to using state dollars to help fund private ventures as governor, Bush supported faith-based initiatives similar to those proposed by George W. Bush as president. These allowed religious organizations to address issues related to social welfare, and they are controversial among many conservatives for entangling the state with religious groups as well as funneling tax dollars to private groups.35

Energy & Environment

While he hasn’t been particularly vocal on the issue of climate change, Bush has evinced skepticism. Speaking in defense of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bush said, “It is not unanimous among scientists that (global warming) is disproportionately man-made. What I get a little tired of on the left is this idea that somehow science has decided all this so you can’t have a view.”36

He has become an increasingly vocal supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, though he has tempered this enthusiasm with rhetoric broadly favoring “rational” regulations on so-called fracking and opening up federal lands for drilling. On the latter score, as governor, Bush signed a bill funding a program through which the state of Florida would purchase private land in order to preserve it. Further, in 2002, he worked with the federal government to prevent off-shore drilling off the Florida coast, a position he reversed in 2005 citing “new political realities.”37


Bush has been a strong supporter of free trade agreements. He endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it would “strengthen our ties to our allies throughout the Pacific region, including our close allies and partners in Australia, Mexico and Japan. … [F]ree trade is essential to creating the sustained, high rate of growth that we need to create well-paying jobs, new opportunities for American farmers and businesses, and even greater access to a global supply of goods and services.”38

He was one of CAFTA’s most prominent supporters,39 and he criticized Obama for failing to engage Asian and Latin American countries on trade. He also supports expanding trade with Peru, having visited that country to make the case for a free trade agreement.40

Health Care

Bush has been a vocal critic of Obamacare and has publicly supported its full repeal.41 In mid-October of 2015 Bush proposed repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a more market-oriented system.42 His plan would provide a tax credit that increases with age for Americans without access to employer-provided coverage, and money left over from the credit after paying premiums could be deposited in a Health Savings Account (HSA). Limits on contributions to HSAs would be increased from $3,350 to $6,550, and the deduction for employer-provided insurance would be capped at $12,000 for an individual and $30,000 for a family.43

Bush would also give states more flexibility on Medicaid, including allowing them to convert the program to premium assistance, establish work requirements, and experiment with different forms of care delivery and payment.44

Health care reform featured prominently in Bush’s policy agenda during his tenure as governor. He spearheaded a bipartisan compromise on malpractice reform. One of the stated goals of the plan was to attract malpractice insurers to the state while increasing the transparency of health care data. Core aspects of the health care law have since been thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court, including the limits on damages and awards for pain and suffering.45 He also signed a bill into law to convert the state’s Medicaid system to a voucher program, with special incentives for enrollees to meet certain health benchmarks. He has endorsed providing block grants to states to implement reforms.46

Entitlements & Welfare

Bush unveiled his Social Security reform agenda in late October 2015, which includes raising the retirement age by one month every year, reaching age 70 in 2058. Wealthier workers and recipients would see smaller benefit checks, as would workers who take early retirement.47

In the past he has suggested that private accounts for younger workers should be added to Social Security,48 but his current proposal does not include private accounts.49

On Medicare, he praised the House Republican budget offered by Paul Ryan and specifically singled out the Ryan plan’s proposal to convert Medicare to a premium support model that would allow seniors to shop for private coverage.50 He has said he would allow retirees to keep their Health Savings Accounts and push for the creation of new plan options, including those that specialize in treating specific conditions.51

Bush has proposed requiring Medicare recipients to sign “end of life” directives, something many conservatives strongly objected to when a similar provision of Obamacare was made known.52

In early January 2016 Bush unveiled a significant welfare-reform plan that would end the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly called food stamps), replacing them with federal grants to states to fund programs for low-income individuals and families.53 States would have to include work requirements in their programs.54

He also endorsed the Ryan budget’s provision to consolidate federal job training programs in an effort to reduce waste and duplication,55 and his tax reform proposal included an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, allowing many childless workers under age 25 to be eligible for the first time and doubling the maximum credit available to childless workers from $503 to $1006.


On immigration reform, Bush has in the past supported citizenship for those currently in the U.S. illegally, but more recently suggested in his 2013 book that only legal residency and not citizenship should be available.56  After publication of the book, however, he appears to have reverted to his original position supporting citizenship, saying the legal-residency-only position was offered as a politically viable option, not his preferred solution.57 He has said that those who were brought illegally to the country as children should be eligible for citizenship.58

He has also said he supports more border enforcement and giving states the power to help enforce immigration laws as well, such as using local law enforcement to enforce expiring visas59 and giving them the authority to determine which services immigrants are eligible for.60 He has proposed ending federal law enforcement funds to so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with U.S. immigration laws.61

Bush has also said illegal immigration is “not a felony. It’s an act of love,”62 and suggested increased immigration (both legal and illegal) will ameliorate the Social Security system’s potential insolvency.63 He has rejected ending so-called “birthright citizenship,” which under the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to the children of illegal aliens born in the United States.64


He has demonstrated support for statewide right-to-work laws throughout the country (Florida has been a right-to-work state since 1968) and penned a Washington Times op-ed in praise of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to get such laws passed in his state. Among other things, right-to-work laws allow employees of unionized companies to opt out of paying union dues.


Bush generally favors deregulation of industry, arguing in a Wall Street Journal piece that regulations beget unintended economic consequences and stifle economic growth. In September 2015 he unveiled an ambitious regulatory reform agenda that would establish a budget for regulation’s costs, requiring the cost of a new regulation to be offset by eliminating or changing other regulations. He would also establish a commission to review and have a “spring cleaning” of regulations, as well as freezing all Obama administration regulations that have not yet been implemented.65

Bush described net neutrality, which imposes 1930s-era telephone regulations on the Internet, as “the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.”66 He has also argued against raising the federal minimum wage because it limits entry-level opportunities, saying the private sector should be setting wages.67

Corporate Welfare

Bush said in 2012 he supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program, often called a government bailout of Wall Street and banks, but opposed the bailout of Detroit automakers.68 He also said he thought Dodd-Frank, which imposed onerous regulations on Wall Street, was “the wrong approach.”69

He endured some criticism for his proposal to spend $310 million to bring the Scripps Research Institute to Florida. Of the institute, Bush said, “Scripps (Institute) is the brand name in biomedical research and we are honored they have chosen Florida to expand their current research facilities. Already known for breakthroughs for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, this new bi-coastal presence will bring even greater opportunities for life-saving and life-enhancing research.”70

On another form of corporate welfare, ethanol subsidies and the mandate that refiners include it in their gasoline blends, Bush suggested that they would disappear over time as ethanol became more established but did not commit to ending the subsidies and preferences.71

He has also said that subsidies should be phased out for all forms of energy, including solar, wind, gas, and oil.72

He advocated taking money currently funneled to “clean energy” companies and instead investing it in basic research, noting the federal government shouldn’t be playing venture capitalist.73

Bush supported a $60 million subsidy to the Florida Marlins for a new stadium in 2004.74

Banking & Finance

Bush has supported legislation giving Puerto Rico’s municipalities the authority to declare bankruptcy in order to deal with massive debt.75 He has been critical of the Dodd-Frank regulation of the banking industry, saying it has increased systematic risk, continued “too big to fail,” and suffocated the creation and survival of small banks.76

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International Relations

Bush advocates what he calls “liberty diplomacy,” using diplomatic efforts to promote the values of individualism and liberty.77

He criticized the Obama administration’s improving ties with Cuba, arguing the U.S. received nothing and left the Castro brothers in power.78 Bush said he would “probably not” keep the U.S. embassy in Cuba open if he were elected president.79

He favors continued economic cooperation with China. In 2012, he met with then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who has since become that nation’s leader. Xi praised the Bush family’s role in developing closer ties between the two nations, and according to Chinese state-run media  Bush pledged to contribute to economic diplomacy between the two nations. 80 He has offered few policy specifics, however, and has not made relations with China a centerpiece of his rhetoric and advocacy.

In February 2005 Bush criticized the budget sequestration cuts to defense spending and said he would increase spending on the military.81 He has said the U.S. should provide arms to Ukraine to allow them to defend against Russian aggression82 and stated that it is the duty of NATO to protect members from Putin, whom he called a “ruthless pragmatist” who will “push until someone pushes back.”83

War on Terror

In a major foreign policy speech, Bush laid out how he would address the crisis in the Middle East. In Iraq he called for accelerated training of the country’s security forces, embedding U.S. forces with and providing air support for Iraqi military units, and providing more support to the Kurds.84 He advocates “safe” and “no fly” zones in Syria as well as greater effort to unite and support moderate Syrians fighting the Assad regime and ISIS,85 and following attacks in Paris he called for the U.S. to declare war on ISIS.86

Bush recently called for the U.S. to do more to help refugees, primarily Syrians fleeing the conflict in their home country, flooding into Europe.87 He specifically has said the U.S. should focus its aid efforts on Syrian Christians who are being persecuted.88

Bush has long considered Iran to be a threat, and has stated that he does not believe the option of military force should be off the table. To that end, he has been critical of the Obama administration, saying “I think the president could start by being less timid in his support of the democracy and freedom movement in Iran. A democratic Iran would not be a threat to its neighbors or to the United States.”89

He has sharply criticized the nuclear arms deal the Obama administration negotiated with Iran and urged Congress to reject it.90

Even before 9/11, he was one of the original signatories on the Project for the New American Century’s statement of principles.91 The group, co-founded by neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan, promotes a strong military and enhanced “American global leadership.” As one would expect, he supported the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and he praised the surge of troops in 2007.92

After first saying he would have made the same decision to invade Iraq if he had the same intelligence available when the decision was originally made, Bush declined to answer a hypothetical question about what decision he would have made based on what is now known about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction, and then said he would not have authorized the invasion based on what is now known.93 He has said the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq early has led to the rise of ISIS and the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the region.94

Bush has been supportive of the Patriot Act’s anti-terror programs,95 including restoration of the National Security Agency’s collection of what is known as bulk metadata.96

Military Preparedness & Budget

In February 2015 Bush criticized the budget sequestration cuts to defense spending and said he would increase spending on the military.97 Bush has proposed making cybersecurity a higher priority in terms of national defense, and called for devoting more resources to address this threat.98

In mid-November 2015, Bush proposed adding 40,000 new Army soldiers and 4,000 new Marines to active duty rolls as part of a military buildup.99 He would deploy an Army Special Forces Group to Europe with a focus on preparing the Baltic states to resist Russian aggression.100 His plan would increase the size of the Navy including acquiring two Virginia-class attack submarines per year and building at least 100 of the Air Force’s next-generation bomber. He also plans on continuing production of the F-35 fighter and possibly restarting production of the F-22 fighter.101

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American Exceptionalism

At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Bush said the following regarding American exceptionalism:

“I do believe in American exceptionalism. I got to be the chairman of the National Constitution Center for a couple of years. It’s the center that honors our Constitution. And I fell in love with the Constitution again being there in its presence. And this president has trampled over the Constitution.… The fact that he is disrespecting our history and the extraordinary nature of our country by doing what he’s done is deeply disturbing to me. I think restoring a love of our country and its heritage and tradition and expanding that love in a way that gives people confidence that they can rise up, that they can live the American dream, has to be one of the prime responsibilities of the next president of the United States.”102

In September 2015 Bush told an Iowa audience, “We should not have a multicultural society… America is so much better than every other country because of the values that people share – it defines our national identity. Not race or ethnicity, not where you come from. When you create pockets of isolation – and in some cases the assimilation process is retarded because it’s slowed down – it’s wrong. It limits peoples’ aspirations. We need to get back to that. We’re creeping towards multiculturalism and it’s the wrong approach.”103

Judiciary & Crime

Bush has said that he favors appointing judges with “a proven record of judicial restraint” and judges who “have a proven record of not legislating from the bench.”104 As governor he made numerous judicial appointments, and his two appointees to the state Supreme Court were considered reliably conservative.105

He is credited with reforming the process under which judges are nominated in Florida, wresting control away from the state bar association and giving the governor more authority to select nominees.106 Discussing his approach to nominating judges in 2006, Bush said, “I think the greatest threat to the independence of the judiciary is when judges overstep their bounds. That creates the greatest danger, perhaps, than anything else. In order to protect the separation of powers, make sure judges apply the law rather than use their position to legislate.”107

Bush said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits).108 He criticized the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage), saying he believes the court should have “allowed the states to make this decision.”109

Bush supports the death penalty, having signed a bill implementing lethal injection in the state.110 In general, he has a track record of supporting tougher sentences for those found guilty of committing felonies. More recently, he came out in opposition to Florida’s Medical Marijuana Initiative, which voters failed to enact in 2014.111


In the September 2015 GOP debate, Bush argued that it should be left to individuals states to set drug policy, saying “What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision.”112 He has also proposed moving the Department of the Interior, which manages vast federal landholdings in Western states, out to the West and giving states more authority over those lands.113


Bush announced an ambitious education reform plan in January 2016. One key element of the plan includes converting tax-deferred college savings accounts, called 529 plans, into Education Savings Accounts that allow money to be contributed by anyone and the funds to be used for early childhood, elementary and secondary school, college, job training, tutoring, or other educational purposes. Contributions made to the accounts of low-income children would be tax-deductible.114 States would also have the flexibility to give federal funds directly to parents or have it “portable” and follow the child in order to increase educational choice.115 His plan also includes supporting charter schools and Washington D.C.’s school voucher program.

For higher education, Bush would eliminate current federal loan programs and instead give every high school graduate a $50,000 line of credit through their Education Saving Account, with repayment linked to income and paid over 25 years.116 Pell grants for low-income students would also be increased, colleges would bear some of the risk for students who default on their loans, and student loans would be dischargeable in bankruptcy.117

As governor, Bush was a fervent advocate for school choice, and in 1999, he introduced the first statewide school choice program in the country.118 Prior to that, he co-founded the state’s first charter school in a struggling Miami neighborhood. At an education summit in August 2015, he suggested that “total voucherization” should be considered, giving funds directly to parents and allowing them to spend it directly on their children’s education and save unspent money for college.119

Under Bush’s “A+” plan in Florida, students were required to meet certain standards in order to be promoted to the next grade, and teacher salaries were similarly tethered to those standards. The plan recently turned 15 years old, and Bush has been vocal in promoting its success in improving student outcomes.

Bush was an early supporter of the controversial Common Core program and appears to remain supportive. He sees Common Core, which has earned the ire of constitutional conservatives, tea party groups, homeschoolers, and teachers unions alike, as an extension of his “A+” plan. His nonprofit group, Foundation for Excellence in Education, has vigorously defended Common Core, though Bush’s rhetoric on it has shifted and so he no longer mentions it by name in public appearances and has suggested the problem isn’t Common Core but the Obama administration’s efforts to “hijack” it to intrude on state education.120

Free Speech & Religious Liberty

Bush has defended religious liberty, arguing, “A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. This should not be that complicated.”121

He also supported the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision affirming the right of business owners to not be forced to provide contraception that violated their religious beliefs122 and was critical of subpoenas sent to pastors in Houston demanding their sermons and statements concerning a nondiscrimination ordinance.123

He also said he favors a campaign finance system in which people are free to support the candidates and causes they believe in without limits, but with disclosure,124 generally in line with free-speech advocates who oppose most regulation of money in politics.

Social Issues

Bush has been a strong proponent of gun rights. As governor he signed the nation’s first “Stand Your Ground” bill into law in 2005,125 which removed the so-called “duty to retreat” when threatened by an assailant. He also signed a bill to allow non-Florida residents to carry a concealed weapon, provided they have concealed carry permits in other states.126 He seemed to speak favorably of Florida’s three-day waiting period to purchase a handgun in a September 2015 interview, while pointing to the need for better mental health treatment as a key to reducing violence.127 He also recently said there was no need for further federal gun laws.128

Bush has been consistently pro-life, believing abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is endangered.129 He gained national attention for his actions in the Terri Schiavo case, when he attempted to prevent life support from being removed from a comatose woman.130 He has also supported parental consent laws131 and regulation of abortion clinics.132

His views on same sex marriage are nuanced, favoring traditional marriage and believing there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage133 while arguing the decision should be left to individual states.134 He does not appear to favor a constitutional amendment to overturn the recent Supreme Court decision on this issue and has called for respect “for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections.”135

Bush also signed an executive order prohibiting affirmative action in government hiring, contracting, and college admissions.136 As governor, Bush supported faith-based initiatives to address a number of social and economic issues. While he feels this is in line with his commitment to empowering private citizens to solve societal problems, he was been willing to use state dollars to this end.

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Bush has verbally distanced himself from his party on many issues related to immigration, having staked his ground as an expert and advocate on behalf of immigration reform. He was famously quoted as saying illegal immigration is “not a felony. It’s an act of love.” He is on the record supporting a path to, at minimum, permanent legal status for immigrants already in the United States.137  These positions are likely to be controversial among the Republican base.

Bush’s last name may not be his only family problem on the campaign trail. His wife, Columba, returned from a Paris trip and was found to have about $20,000 worth of purchases that required declaration at customs, although she had only claimed $500 on the customs form. She wound up paying hefty fines for this.138 His wife is also considered to be averse to publicity, something that would be a problem on the campaign circuit.

Perhaps as problematic to his candidacy is the family’s perception among voters. While he earned praise for his handling of the Florida hurricanes, this was well before Hurricane Katrina, for which George W. Bush’s administration was harshly criticized. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to discuss a Jeb Bush presidential candidacy without surveying the extent of so-called “Bush fatigue” among voters.

While Bush landed a number of victories during his tenure, he has seen a number of his signature initiatives involving education, cultural and health care related issues reversed by higher courts. His statewide school voucher program, for example, was struck down in 2006.139 The charter school Bush helped to found, once regarded as a pioneering success, closed in 2008 after accruing over $1 million in debt. Much of Bush’s policy agenda as governor is no longer in place. As such, he might have a difficult time pointing to his accomplishments on the campaign trail.

Rumors in the past have linked Bush romantically to ethically plagued Florida official Cynthia Henderson.140 The rumors managed to work their way into statewide print media, though no hard evidence was ever produced suggesting the two were romantically involved. Bush steadfastly and publicly denied the allegation.

Some of his private sector associations were ill chosen. Early in his career, he forged a relationship with Miguel Recarey, himself a long-time associate of Santos Trafficante, a notorious fixture in Tampa organized crime. Bush’s business dealings with Recarey included a $75,000 contract in 1988 to Bush’s company to help Recarey’s International Medical Centers locate a corporate headquarters. The transaction was curious as International Medical Centers had already chosen a location.141

In the late ‘80s he helped negotiate a deal to sell water pumps to local governments in Nigeria that involved $74 million in loans from the Export-Import Bank. The Justice Department later sued to recover the money, alleging a $25 million commission paid to the Nigerian middleman who brokered the deal was a bribe. Bush has denied any knowledge of the improper payment, and the Justice Department’s lawsuit does not target his involvement.142

In 1989, Bush successfully lobbied his father for the release of Orlando Bosch, an anti-Castro militant alleged to be responsible for a number of bombings including  placing a bomb on a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976.143

In 2007, Bush joined the board building materials manufacturer InnoVida. The company filed for bankruptcy and the founder went to jail while investors lost their money. Bush repaid more than a quarter-million dollars he received as a consultant.144

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Compare Jeb Bush To Other Candidates

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