COLUMBIA, S.C. – As he drops new hints about his 2016 intentions, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is appearing in South Carolina just weeks before a self-imposed deadline to decide whether he will run for president.
Bush is scheduled to give Monday’s commencement address at the University of South Carolina. It marks the Republican leader’s second visit in three months to the state that will host the 2016 presidential primary season’s first contest in the South.
In a television interview aired on the eve of the South Carolina appearance, Bush expressed confidence that he “would be a good president,” adding that he was in the process of writing an e-book about his time as governor that would come out in the spring. He also said he would make public about 250,000 emails from his time in office, in an effort to promote transparency and to “let people make up their mind,” he told ABC’s Miami affiliate WPLG-TV.
Bush said going through the material has reminded him that “if you run with big ideas and then you’re true to those ideas, and get a chance to serve and implement them and do it with passion and conviction, you can move the needle. … And that’s what we need right now in America.”
Aides report that Bush does not plan to meet with political operatives while in South Carolina. And Monday’s speech is not expected to touch on any overtly political themes. But his mere presence in a state high on the presidential primary calendar will stoke new speculation that he is moving toward a White House bid.
As the son of one president and brother of another, Bush has the power to transform the 2016 contest like no other Republican.
He can tap into his family’s vast political network, and his campaign would attract strong support from major donors and widespread media attention.
But his supporters are struggling to understand what Bush’s actions mean and whether they can predict his political intentions.
He spent much of the recent midterm campaign out of the public eye. The South Carolina address, however, will be his fourth high-profile speech in recent weeks. That includes an appearance before corporate executives in Washington, where he called for his party to embrace an immigration overhaul and to focus on governing. He also said he would make the call on running for president “not that far out in the future.”
At the same time Bush has been expanding his private equity business, and advisers insist he’s not courting a political staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, even as other would-be candidates assemble their 2016 campaign teams in the early voting states.
About all anyone can say for certain is that, as Bush himself has said, he’s still thinking about it and plans to make a decision by the end of the month.
“He’s begun the journey. How long it will take him, I don’t know,” said Al Cardenas, a longtime Bush friend and former chairman of the American Conservative Union. “People are interpreting activity to conclude that he’s closer to running. I’m not of that school.
“I hope he runs, but I believe the activity is based on getting serious.”