What Jeb Bush is like in person
The zen candidate
HUDSON, N.H. — Being with former Florida governor Jeb Bush for his first trips to Iowa and New Hampshire last weekend and this one, I found his demeanor to be completely different from those of the dozens of other candidates I have covered in these two states as they tested the presidential waters.
Typically these candidates fit into one of about four categories when they first visit. There are the eager and ambitious who want to wow you with a lot of fake energy. There are those who hope to charm you and pretend to learn the names of your children. There are the ones who are just going through the paces, aloof. And there are those who clearly have no idea what they are doing, though they would really like someone to tell them.
Bush’s father was in the charm group. His brother was in the wow category. But Jeb is like nothing I have ever seen.
To be sure, Jeb wants to you to be impressed and charmed, but he is not going to go out of his way. He is not aloof either. He is fully in command of what is going on. In 1979 he lived in Iowa for six months helping his dad’s campaign for president. In 2000, he went door to door for his brother, handing out 250 Florida oranges during a cold New Hampshire primary season. This is not Jeb’s first rodeo.
I have struggled to articulate what he is actually like as a candidate ever since I left Iowa last weekend. The best I can come up with is this: Jeb Bush is zen.
He is confident, but not arrogant. He is aware, but understated. He is engaging and can charm, but he still has a bit of distance. He is not in a hurry, but he is constantly on the move.
Within the first 30 minutes of his first stop in New Hampshire he was asked about immigration reform and the Common Core educational standards, two issues on which he disagrees with the Republican base. Most candidates would be on the defensive — but Bush wasn’t defensive at all.
In fact, he explained that when controversial topics come up, many politicians dodge the issue or change their position to placate the crowd. He said he won’t do that.
“You don’t abandon your core beliefs; you got to try to persuade people,” Bush told a group of business leaders from the Nashua area. “You need to be genuine. You need to have a backbone.”
When he answers questions, you can see why people say he is the policy-wonk brother. He appears to be equally comfortable talking about issues in his wheelhouse (such as education) as he is with foreign policy — just as he can easily switch between speaking English and Spanish.
As he introduces himself to New Hampshire and Iowa, one of his challenges is to show that he isn’t simply another Bush.
It helps that he isn’t afraid to just be himself.
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