Jeb Bush is talking serious smack about one politician certain not to be his opponent in 2016.
The not-yet-formally announced, not-fully-frontrunner Republican candidate on a would-be whistle-stop tour of battleground Colorado today took aim at the easiest of targets: Barack Obama.
The former Florida governor derided the president for what he called “ill-conceived negotiations with Iran,” a “broken immigration system,” a “defeatist attitude” about an economy growing half as slowly as he said it should, and a tax code that’s “tearing us down” and “mak[ing] people depressed.”
After visiting with veterans and lunching with donors earlier in the day, Bush appeared at what was billed as an energy town hall meeting. The “hall” was a ballroom at Denver’s tony Brown Palace Hotel. The “town” was a group of energy sector workers largely made up of oil and gas company executives.
By far the crowd’s biggest applause came when Bush slammed Obama for “impeding energy development” and “the high-wage jobs” that come with it.
“For some odd reason, this president has a problem with the energy sector,” he said.
You would never have known, from the atmosphere in the room, that the country has experienced the greatest drilling boom in ages and that Colorado’s suburban Front Range has been transformed into a money-gushing gas patch in the time since Obama was first elected, that prices at the gas pump have been the lowest Americans have paid since Gerald Ford occupied the White House and that the renewable energy sector is expanding at a reliable long-over-due clip.
At the town hall, the energy group asked questions about the Keystone XL Pipeline, Mexican energy reform and the crude oil export ban. The questions were far softer than media inquiries earlier in the day about why Bush had identified himself as Hispanic on his 2009 voter registration form. According to several news reports, he described the move as a “mistake.”
Bush’s wife and children are Hispanic. If he runs for president, as expected, he’s likely to seek Colorado’s highly coveted swing vote as well as support from Latinos who share his conservative social values.
In an appearance focusing mainly on economic issues, Bush delved into his social agenda after a question from a GOP state delegate who was homeschooled and is considering keeping his own young children out of the education system. He wanted to know what Bush plans to do to “eliminate” the federal Department of Education.
Bush noted that, while education is funded only 10 percent by federal tax dollars, 80 percent of public school compliance regulations come from D.C. Saying homeschooling is “the fastest growing part of the student population,” he cited the success story of quarterback Tim Tebow, a former Denver Bronco and darling of the religious right.
“You still like him here, right?” he asked.
Then Bush took his message more local. After having been introduced by Douglas County School Board member Doug Benevento, he lauded that district for its efforts toward privatization.
“If Douglas County wants to voucherize the entire school district, which I think is what they want to do,” it would have his backing.
Wearing an American flag pin on the collar of his sports jacket, the brother-son of two former presidents said with a grin that he’s “seriously considering the possibility of a new phase in my life.”
His stop in Colorado – the second in our swing state in as many months – came after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced his candidacy this morning. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz declared his bid last month.
Colorado voters favored Jeb Bush’s dad, George H. W. Bush, in 1988 and brother, George W. Bush, in 2000 and 2004. Jeb is cousin to Colorado state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
Another Bush brother, Neil Bush, has a tarnished history in Colorado after having served in the 1980s as director of the Denver-based Silverado Savings and Loan. Silverado cost taxpayers more than $1 billion after collapsing in scandal.
Photo of Jeb Bush by the World Affairs Council, 2012.