Former Florida governor Jeb Bush made it official today--he's running for president.

Bush, whose presidential bid was the subject of intense speculation even before 2015 got under way, had perplexed some presidential watchers by avoiding an official declaration for months. The delay has enabled him to raise money and avoid campaign finance laws that limit contributions once a candidate has officially declared. His super PAC could raise upwards of $100 million dollars, by some estimates. Yet by coming late to the party, he squares off against nearly a dozen Republican challengers, and four Democratic presidential hopefuls already in place. 

"I have decied I am a candidate for president of the United States of America," Bush said during a speech at Miami Dade College, in Miami. "We will take command of our future once again."

As Bush announced his run, he will become the third member of his immediate family to run for president in the past two decades. He will also square off against former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in the latest match-up between the two political families. And as Bush's campaign has slowly taken shape, critical themes to small business owners have come into soft focus.

This winter, Bush spoke about the economy in Detroit and on foreign policy in Chicago. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, he continued to define his agenda by focusing on fixing the immigration system and education. More generally, his stance on pocketbook issues like simplifying taxes and the economy is sure to be a prominent focus among business owners.

While Bush's business-themed policy proposals will likely offer a mixture of traditionally Republican tax cuts and so-called trickle down economics, he's likely to define his views on how to support the middle class, lift up the lowest wage workers, and close the income gap, which would continue on the themes he started talking about earlier this  year. One of the ways he plans to do all this, according to comments he delivered to the Detroit Economic Club in early February, is by returning the economy to a 4 percent annual growth rate, which the U.S. has not consistently experienced since the 1980s and 1990s.

"The U.S. should not settle for anything less than 4 percent growth a year," Bush said. "At that rate, the middle class can thrive again." And he echoed that 4 percent goal again during his campaign announcement speech.

That's a tall order for an economy that's been stuck at half that growth rate for the last decade.

And although Bush, who is the son of 41st President George H.W. Bush and brother of 43rd President George W. Bush, was short on details then and now, he suggested that supporting education and stronger families would be key to his goal. He has also said, in Detroit and elsewhere, that overhauling immigration and strengthening trade agreements would be key to his economic agenda.

"[Bush's] big areas of focus have always been on education and refocusing people on opportunities, no matter what income bracket they are born into," says Stan Veuger, resident economist for the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Bush, a two-term governor of Florida as well as that state's secretary of commerce in the 1980s, is also an entrepreneur. That could give him valuable insight into how to ramp up economic growth.

A real estate developer in the 1980s, he turned to the financial world after his second term as governor ended in 2007. Although Bush recently relinquished seats on the boards of Tenet Healthcare and Rayonier, a timber business, he also manages an offshore private equity fund called BH Global Aviation, according to Bloomberg. In 2007, he served as a private equity adviser with now-defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers, and more recently as an adviser to Barclays.

Much like Mitt Romney in the 2012 election cycle, he'll need to try recasting his more elite experiences into a cohesive national agenda with a strong populist appeal, political experts say. One of the cornerstones of conservative politics is cutting taxes for the wealthy--whether that's the corporate tax rate on businesses or the individual tax rate for consumers. Like it or not, however, left of center observers say such policies tend to favor big businesses more than smaller ones.

"With a Republican like Jeb Bush, with a big business, trickle down economic mindset, small businesses generally get overlooked," says Lakshmi Balachandra, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

Certainly Bush's two terms as governor showcase this point. During his tenure, conservative groups like the Cato Institute lauded his prolific tax cutting on personal and business investments, property, and some business capital investment, though they criticized his increases in state spending.

Conservatives have also favored Bush's pro-business tort reform during his governorship, which resulted in Florida becoming one of only a handful of states that have overturned long-established liability statutes, which freed businesses from more extensive damages in the case of negligence. Bush was also successful in pushing through limits on medical malpractice suits. 

Translated to a national stage, such policies could create a disconnect between Bush's stated long-term goals of helping the middle class and poorer workers while supporting business, political analysts say.

"The proposition that held from the 1950s until recently is that as businesses did well, so would workers," says Robert Shapiro, a senior policy scholar at Georgetown's Center for Business and Public Policy and former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. "It is no longer the case that you can simply assume that what is good for business is good for workers."

Still, some political analysts see Bush attempting to make himself over into something of a Republican moderate.

"What strikes me about the Bush economic strategy at this point is that it comes straight from Jack Kemp's philosophy about empowerment and minority entrepreneurship and developing inner cities," says Bill Whalen, a research fellow of politics at the Hoover Institution.

As a vice presidential nominee during Senator Bob Dole's unsuccessful run for president in 1996, Kemp had served in a sub-cabinet position under George H.W. Bush as chairman of the Economic Empowerment Task Force. That group sought to combat national poverty.

Certainly Bush's support of trade agreements, voiced during his speech on February 18 to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and immigration reform could help unlock stronger economic growth, suggest policy experts. Some trade analysts suggest that increasing exports to 15 percent of gross domestic product from its current 13 percent rate could add $300 billion in new GDP annually.

"Jeb Bush has a big interest in Latin America, and I expect he would follow in the footsteps of [his] father and brother in being more internationally focused on trade issues," says Todd McCracken, president and chief executive of the National Small Business Association, a business advocacy group. He adds that "more trade agreement[s] are good for exports."

Meanwhile, Bush, whose wife is Mexican, has already spoken strongly on the impact immigration overhaul could have on the economy. And he did so again in Miami.

"The next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that it will be solved, and not by executive order," Bush said, referring to President Obama's executive order from November, which legalized the status of 5 million undocumented immigrants.

 

Published on: Feb 25, 2015