Reintroducing ... Jeb!

An exclamation point is a handy thing. Its very presence demands attention and, if properly deployed, can convey excitement, surprise, wonderment, even outrage.

All these things had been lacking in the long and shaky run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign of Jeb Bush, which he formally announced Monday. As if to inject missing enthusiasm into it, his strategists dusted off the old logo of "Jeb!" from his earlier races for Florida governor, and he did his best to live up to it.


In an animated and aggressive speech before appropriately cheering supporters at Miami Dade College, the son and brother of two previous presidents put on an impressive show of determination and fight while continuing to insist, despite the conspicuous family ties, that he is indeed his own man.

Jeb Bush had spent months making the case that he would not be running on the coattails (of dubious political strength these days) of either of his presidential kin. Neither of them was present at the Miami kickoff, but his mother, Barbara Bush, who often has come off as the strongest-willed member of the clan, was introduced to rousing applause.

Jeb pointedly argued that the Republican nomination would, and should, be fought for and not inherited through any family dynasty. "It's nobody's turn," he said, and he was ready to take his chances in the large field of GOP aspirants.

He made reference again to his early intent not to pander to the party's more conservative elements, when he said he would be willing "to lose the primary [elections] to win the general." But that's like ordering a lettuce-and-tomato sandwich and holding the lettuce.

For Mr. Bush or any other candidate to reach the general election, he would need to do well in the state caucuses and primaries leading to the fall contest against the Democratic nominee. Bucking or just ignoring or irritating the Republican conservative base would severely risk his chances to reach the final contest.

In his prepared kickoff speech, he didn't mention the thorny issue of immigration. But in response to protesters in the audience, he pointedly asserted he would push for "meaningful immigration reform" through the legislative process, compared to President Obama's executive order saving 11 million undocumented aliens from deportation.

Mr. Bush reminded the audience of his own Latino ties, mentioning his Mexican-American wife and children and speaking at some length in fluent Spanish as he addressed the issue. He also adhered to his support of education reform along the lines of the Common Core testing standards, unpopular with the GOP right wing.

At 62 and with two terms as governor of Florida on his resume, Jeb Bush is hardly a fresh face in his party's politics. But his comfort level with the Hispanic community promises hope, if he is the Republican nominee next year, of cutting into the Hispanic vote that Mr. Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

His candidacy assures that Florida will be a particular battleground for the GOP nomination, what with a Cuban-American and fellow Floridian, freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, among the favorites in the early polling of the Republican field, which now approaches a dozen or more entrants. The state is to hold its GOP primary on March 15.

One speech does not make a campaign, but in Mr. Bush's formal candidacy remarks he demonstrated a persona in contrast with those of his father and brother, the previous presidents. He conveyed a serious grasp of intensity and direction not often attributed to the 41st president, the likeable but sometimes zany George H.W. Bush. He displayed an earnestness and humility in sharp contrast to the cocky, swaggering 43rd president, the man flippantly called "Dubya."

In that sense, the family connection and the prospect of a three-president dynasty for the first time in the nation's history will provide a continuing backdrop through the 2016 campaign. So now, as from the beginning, the Bush name will remain a mix of blessing and deterrent for the man running as "Jeb!"

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is