Moves by Jeb Bush add to talk of 2016 candidacy

Robert Costa and Matea Gold (c) 2014, The Washington Post. WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush’s decision to release a policy-laden e-book and all his emails from his time as governor of Florida has further stoked expectations among his allies that he will launch a presidential bid.

Bush announced the moves in an expansive interview that aired Sunday on a Miami television station. He mused about the kind of campaign he would run and addressed his views on immigration and education reform that rile parts of the GOP base.

At several points in the interview, Bush sounded like a candidate-in-waiting. He said the process of cataloging his emails and writing the book reminded him that “if you run with big ideas and then you’re true to those ideas . . . you can move the needle.”

He indicated he would make a move soon. “End of this year, early next year, I’ll make a decision to really pursue this or to stand down,” Bush said.

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A tightknit group of longtime aides, led by California-based strategist Mike Murphy and Florida-based confidante Sally Bradshaw, have been huddling with Bush in recent weeks, sketching out the look and feel of a possible 2016 campaign.

Their thinking is that Bush, who was last on a ballot in 2002, would need to be aggressive and digitally savvy, challenging any impressions that he is an establishment moderate with sclerotic campaign skills. Instead, they would attempt to cast him as an accessible conservative reformer who is not of Washington, according to Republicans who have spoken with Murphy and Bradshaw.

The ramped-up activity this month by Bush’s team — which has caught many in the GOP off-guard — could be seen in how quickly he moved to defuse new questions about his work for a private-equity firm.

In the interview, which was taped in Coral Gables, Florida, on Saturday, Bush rejected the idea that his high-finance experience could be a liability, as it was for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.

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“I think that practical experience is something that might be useful in Washington, D.C., to be honest with you, where it’s all in this bubble, where they have no concept what impact the massive amount of rules and taxes and regulations . . . has on the entrepreneurial spirit of this country,” Bush told WPLG-TV. “I’m not ashamed. Taking risk and creating jobs is something we ought to have more of.”

If he runs, the former governor said, he will divest himself of his business interests.

Bush used the interview to highlight what his advisers believe are his strengths: his wonky style and an open approach to discussing his gubernatorial record. Early next year, he plans to unveil a Web site with 250,000 emails — the entire trove from his time as governor.

“Part of serving or running — both of them — is transparency, to be totally transparent,” Bush said.

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Florida legal experts noted that the state’s public-records law requires the release of Bush’s emails and other correspondence as governor, with few exceptions.

But posting all the documents online is an extra measure that could provide a sharp contrast with his would-be rivals for the Republican nomination. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been dogged by investigations into his aides’ role in a bridge-closing scandal, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been fighting efforts by state prosecutors to investigate possible illegal political coordination by his associates.

Bush’s pending trove of documents also serves as a challenge to former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose has come under criticism because the State Department has failed to meet its deadlines to release records related to her tenure.

“If he does throw his hat in the 2016 race, he’ll run a different type of campaign,” Republican consultant Ana Navarro, a Bush friend who worked in his gubernatorial office, said in an email Sunday. “He’s setting a high bar for transparency and putting pressure on others to follow suit.”

Meanwhile, Bush plans to complete a yet-untitled e-book after the holidays that will be released in the late winter or early spring. The book is expected to lay out his arguments on issues such as education, immigration and the economy and could be the first in a series if he runs, according people familiar with the project.

Monday, Bush is traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, to deliver the winter commencement address at the University of South Carolina.

Democrats are closely watching Bush’s maneuvers and say that he could be a formidable candidate if he were able to make it through a Republican primary contest.

“I think he would be the toughest guy for us,” Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and past Democratic National Committee chairman, said in an interview Sunday. “He could raise a lot of money, and in a general election, you have to be respectful that anything can happen. . . . He’s going to have a stance on immigration that is much more constructive than the one held by others in his party, and I don’t think he’ll back away.”

Bush on Sunday said he would try to persuade Republicans to embrace his perspective on immigration.

While he said that undocumented immigrants should pay penalties for not following the law, Bush urged lawmakers and others to not “ascribe evil motives for people wanting to put food on the table for their families.”

The former governor continued to defend Common Core, the voluntary reading and math standards adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. He says the standards help better prepare students. But he said he shared “common ground” with critics of the standards, saying the federal government should not get involved.

“They shouldn’t use their coercive powers to try to dictate the tests or dictate anything,” Bush said. “Certainly, curriculum shouldn’t come close to Washington, D.C. — God forbid that would happen.”

Bush indicated that, if he runs, he will try to avoid the trap that befell Romney when he moved to the right during the GOP primaries.

“He got sucked into other people’s agendas, and I think it hurt him a little bit,” he said, mentioning that he thinks “almost daily” about what would have happened if Romney won the presidency.

“You have to be true to who you are,” Bush said. At a time when “everything is digitized, your life is open for 24/7, the idea that you can just kind say you’re for one thing and then change it after you win the primary” is unrealistic.

Reporter Michael Putney, who conducted the interview with WPLG-TV colleague Glenna Milberg, has covered Bush for years and was struck by his upbeat demeanor.

“I think it’s now a question of ‘when’ he runs,” he said, “rather than ‘if’ he runs.”

Philip Rucker contributed to this report.