Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took his most definitive step yet toward running for president Tuesday, saying he will "actively explore" a campaign and telling NBC 6 South Florida in an exclusive interview that he planned to "listen to people and see if my message can resonate."
The former Florida governor announced in a holiday message on his Facebook page and Twitter account that he had discussed the "future of our nation" and a potential bid for the White House with members of his family over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The son and brother of former presidents told NBC 6 that he hadn't committed to a run but wanted to renew what he called Americans' flagging faith in their country.
"We should be celebrating the incredible opportunities that exist in this country, and yet most people really don’t feel it," he said. "I think the government doesn't work for them, and if I can get comfortable with being a candidate that gives people hope that we can fix some of these big problems that we have, so that we can take advantage of our opportunities, that's what I am pursuing."
Bush also stressed what he called a need to overhaul immigration not just by securing the borders but also by wooing "young aspirational people to come to our country," a position that has put him at odds with many in his party.
“I think there’s a compelling case that if we want to be young and dynamic again, we have to make legal immigration easier than illegal immigration — that we control our borders, enforce the laws, but that we embrace our immigrant heritage and allow this country to take off. You’ve got to do both," he told NBC 6. "It’s a win-win. I have no problems advancing that idea."
"As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States," Bush wrote on Facebook earlier in the day.
"In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America," he added in his statement.
Before he mulls a White House run, though, Bush told NBC 6 South Florida he first plans to focus on Christmas.
“I haven’t had much time to go Christmas shopping and do the things that I want to do for my family," he said. "I’m going to, at the proper time, listen to people and see if my message can resonate. That will be beginning next year. Right now, I’m going to chill out a little bit."
Florida's Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called Bush an "exemplary governor" and "compelling candidate" for the White House.
"Jeb’s record of job growth, educational excellence, and an administration that fostered big ideas shows us the kind of leader he will be. His candidacy helps to improve our nation and I’m glad to see he’s exploring that possibility," she said.
Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Bush, said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to seek the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016. She said that he will announce his decision next year "after gauging support" for a run.
"This is a natural next step and represents a new phase of his consideration process," Campbell said.
That phase will include an expansion of Bush's political operations. He said Tuesday he will start his own leadership political action committee in January, which will allow him to raise money and use it to support candidates in other races.
In his statement, Bush said the committee "will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.''
Bush's announcement is sure to reverberate throughout Republican politics and begin to help sort out a field that includes more than a dozen potential candidates, none of whom have formally announced plans to mount a campaign.
Should he ultimately decide to run, Bush can tap into his family's vast political network and his campaign would attract strong support from the same donor pool that other establishment-minded Republicans _ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie among them _ need to fuel their own prospective campaigns.
A Bush candidacy also has the potential to affect the plans of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who came up through Florida politics as a strong Bush supporter and is considering whether to seek re-election to the Senate or run for president in 2016.
Tuesday's statement is the latest and most definitive signal that Bush plans to try and become the third member of his family to serve as president. In a TV interview this past weekend, he said he "would be a good president," disclosed that he was writing an e-book about his time as governor that would come out in the spring, and promised to release about 250,000 emails from his time in office.
During his two terms as Florida governor, Bush pushed for large tax cuts, overhauled Florida's education system and led the charge to eliminate race-based policies in college admissions and state spending.
Since leaving office, Bush has continued to advocate for more changes to the nation's schools, including the adoption of new education standards known as Common Core. Those standards have drawn the ire of conservatives who view them as a federal intrusion into local classrooms, but Bush has continued to call them critical to overhauling the country's education system, while seeking common ground with opponents by saying states should be allowed to develop their own education programs.