What a politician says and what they actually mean are often two very different things. And while Jeb Bush has taken it to the trail this month (raising serious cash), his campaign announcement is still a great case study for this.
Of all the Republican and Democratic candidates for president he has the toughest job, threading the needle between so many themes, constituencies and ideologies that it's shocking when he says anything that truly reveals his character or intentions.
Jeb has to galvanize the GOP base (some of which think he’s a RINO), not fly too close to the legacy of his older brother (who turns off Independent voters), appeal to minorities, and chart his own unique path.
With so many conflicting ideas and motivations it’s important to recognize that much of his speech was meant to be interpreted in vastly different ways by the multiple constituencies he has to court.
Here are some choice quotes from Bush's campaign announcement, followed by what he really meant to say to his multiple audiences and benefactors.
"Our prosperity and our security are in the balance. So is opportunity, in this nation where every life matters and everyone has the right to rise."
Republicans: Our nation is in danger because Obama has weakened us.
Independents: Any reference or combination or play off the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is a cultural dog whistle. “Every Life Matters” appeals to the centrist, white “All Lives Matter” voters who are empathetic to stories of police violence against minorities but chafe at the notion of African Americans being central the policy narrative.
Minority voters: This may be the closest ANY Republican comes to saying “Black Lives Matter.” This was not a throwaway phrase, it was Bush quietly reaching out to minority voters similar to Obama’s “Your Lives Matter” quote from the 2015 State of the Union.
"The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election. To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name: That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left."
Republicans: Hillary Clinton will be a 3rd term Obama -- an argument that Obama successfully used to link McCain to Bush back in 2008.
Independents: The Democrats have a coronation of Hillary, not a primary. That’s not what America is about.
Minorities: This alludes to the fact that Obama promised change, and specifically change for the better in the lives of African Americans, Latinos and other minorities in America but unemployment and other issues remain essentially the same.
"The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next."
Quick note: This is a risky message for Jeb Bush because he is essentially arguing against legacy (even if it’s just ideological), but that argument cuts both ways. According to a Clarus Group research poll on June 8th, more voters believe that Jeb will follow the pathways of his father and brother (and that it’s not a good thing) than believe Hillary will follow Obama. Any argument about privilege or entitlement is very thin ice for him.
Republicans: Essentially boilerplate. Obama is the most liberal president ever and Hillary Clinton will be more of the same.
Independents: Hillary Clinton will be a third disappointing Obama term.
Minorities: This does nothing to appeal to African American, Asian or Latino voters, most of whom are still supportive of President Obama and Clinton.
"Think of what we all watched not long ago in Baltimore where so many young adults are walking around with no vision of a life beyond the life they know. After we reformed education in Florida, low-income student achievement improved here more than in any other state."
Republicans: This is great compassionate conservative rhetoric for Republican voters. Many of whom believe that school choice is not only a key issue in 2016 but that school choice is also a solution to many problems in the inner city.
Independents: This plays well amongst independents because Bush is the only Republican to make any significant statement about Baltimore in a campaign speech. This is almost a reverse dog whistle, a Republican willing to address, even obliquely, racial issues in America is a plus.
Minorities: This was a complete swing and a miss. The suggestion that the riots in Baltimore were about bad schools and poor choices will not sit well amongst minorities and activists of all kinds who are concerned about criminal justice and violence. Bush may get some credit because he actually said something unlike many of his colleagues but that gets you only so much credit.
Overall Bush did an adequate job in his campaign announcement. He was enthusiastic, somewhat humorous and engaged. However, this is a long and painful slog of a campaign, and at some point Bush is going to have to speak directly to the people and not depend entirely on speeches that are Rorschach tests for his dream coalition.
Whether he’ll be able to pull that off with the Bush name hanging around his neck (so heavily he doesn’t even want to acknowledge it in his logo) remains to be seen.