Of all the moving parts involved in refurbishing the Republican brand after the Comeuppance of 2012, none is more mobile than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose recent itinerary could give Expedia's mainframe a headache.
It's Little Rock, Ark., one day, Richmond, Va., the next, then back home to South Florida just long enough to host a re-election fundraiser for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham before hitting the road for Chicago, where he was spotted having lunch Monday with former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
"That made news," he says, adding coyly, "I can't imagine why."
Bush knows better. Less than a month into President Barack Obama's second term, the U.S. punditocracy obsesses over the field from which his successor will emerge.
Because these fevered experts virtually guarantee the Democratic coronation is Hillary Rodham Clinton's for the asking — which they did once before, but nevermind — the real action is among Republicans. Regarding that, The Wall Street Journal's assessment Jan. 6, headlined "In GOP, all eyes on Jeb," is no overstatement, and won't be eclipsed by Marco Rubio's famous big gulp.
Which, incidentally, Bush caught only in replays. Faced with the State of the Union dominating TV choices Tuesday night, Bush did what any sensible person in the Windy City would have done: He went to the Blackhawks game.
His priorities firmly established, Bush thumbed the Pasco pin into his map on Wednesday, doing here what he has done at each of his recent stops, making news without making, you know, Big News. Kicking off Saint Leo University's fourth annual International Business Conference, Bush twice declined to tip his White House plans, once in a private visit with a local newspaperman — *blush* — and later when a student asked during his post-speech Q&A.
Demurs notwithstanding, Bush delivered an hourlong, right-of-center recipe for reviving and sustaining the U.S. economy that was upbeat, nuanced and policy-rich. In other words, it was a presentation worthy of a formidable presidential contender.
His proposal is a four-legged stool supported by low-cost domestic hydrocarbon harvested from public and private lands; weeding antiquities from the vast regulatory code; reorganizing education around no-excuses accountability and student-centered digital learning; and broad-based immigration reform.
Leg No. 4 remains controversial on the right, but Bush argued it's time GOP candidates get over trying to be "the last hard-boiled egg at the picnic." Enforcement-only may play during the primaries, he said, but it's a general-election killer.
That said, Bush — synopsizing his March 1 book, "Immigration Wars" — made re-imagined immigration policy, with stout borders, strict visa control and a plan of normalization for illegal immigrants, sound not only reasonable, but also economically advantageous and morally imperative.
Leaving millions stuck "in the shadows" who could be "catalytic converters for our economy" is unacceptable, Bush says. "This is a better country than that."
It was well past 10 p.m. when Bush, a slave to his travel schedule, waved a quick farewell, leaving lingerers to recall why they'd liked him as governor. Certainly, a fair portion of Pasco regards him fondly, and the affection is well-returned.
Earlier, Bush conceded that as his Foundation for Excellence in Education commands increasing attention, he grows less attuned to the intricacies of Florida politics. Nonetheless, he was acutely aware Pasco had lost the bellwether status he famously proclaimed for it election night 2004. "Pasco went for Romney, right?" he says. "Yeah, that didn't work out so well."
And he stood by his decision to endorse John Legg in his state Senate primary race against former state Rep. Rob Wallace, "a good man and a good conservative." Legg's trump card, Bush says, was his devotion to and expertise in education reform. "Nobody's better at it," he says.
Then Thursday, completing the Pasco circle, he re-emerged in Tallahassee, energizing House Republicans at the invitation of Speaker Will Weatherford, of Wesley Chapel.
There goes Jeb Bush, able to make news simply by showing up, still keeping his Big News secret. Exclamation points, anyone?