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Jeb Bush: What does he stand for?

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate former Florida Governor Jeb Bush answers a question in the debate in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

Jeb Bush's competitors for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are going to fairly extraordinary lengths to earn media coverage - lighting their phones on fire, taking a chainsaw to the tax code, using an assault rifle to cook bacon (seriously.)

Bush, though, is taking the more conventional route: The former Florida governor is raising money at a record-breaking clip, he's campaigning hard in early primary and caucus states, and he's gradually rolling out a robust policy platform.

It's a notably circumspect approach to what has become, thanks largely to Donald Trump's combustible candidacy, a roller-coaster of a primary season. But Bush's decision to keep his head down and emphasize substance over pizzazz is not a bug in his campaign - it's the central feature.

Who is presidential candidate Jeb Bush?

"We shouldn't be saying outrageous things that turns people off to the conservative message," Bush told a crowd in Miami last month. "I'm not a grievance candidate...I'm the tortoise in the race, but I'm a joyful tortoise."

Bush showcased his deliberate approach to campaigning during last Thursday's primary debate, offering sober, policy-heavy answers to questions on immigration, education, the economy, and foreign policy.

"We're not embracing the energy revolution in our midst, a broken immigration system that has been politicized rather than turning it into an economic driver. We're not protecting and preserving our entitlement system or reforming for the next generation," he said during his closing statement. "All these things languish while we have politicians in Washington using these as wedge issues. Here's my commitment to you...We can fix these things."

That's his message, in a nutshell: I'm the grown-up in this race, and I can address the problems that the glitzier candidates will never be able to address.

With that in mind, here's a look at Bush's policy positions in five different areas.

Education

Perhaps nothing sets Bush apart in the Republican field more than his passionate support for Common Core education standards, the outline of what students should know by the time they complete each grade level. The standards were written by the states, but the minute the Obama administration began expressing its support -- and tying federal dollars to use of the standards -- they became almost universally loathed by the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Bush said last November that Common Core should be the"new minimum" in student achievement and he challenged foes of the program to offer a better alternative.

Jeb Bush: Common Core education standards should be "new minimum"

Bush has worked hard to tell voters that he doesn't want states to surrender their educational systems to the federal government. At the first Republican debate in August, he said, "I don't believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards directly or indirectly." But, he continued, "I'm for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion," he said.

As governor, he championed education reforms that emphasized accountability based on student testing and expanded charter schools and school vouchers as a way to promote school choice. He pushed for programs and changes to state law that would use state funds or tax credits to help send children to private and church-run schools. Bush has argued that his policies led to the greatest gains in the nation for Florida's low-income kids.

Immigration

Over the past two decades, Bush's immigration views have run the gamut. During his first campaign for Florida governor in 1994, he told the Miami Herald that the government should "start deporting people" who were here illegally. He gradually moved toward supporting a path to legal status for those who came to the country illegally -- a position he put forward in his 2013 book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution" -- and has at times voiced support for a pathway to citizenship. He has characterized illegal immigration as "an act of love."

Jeb Bush in spotlight after "act of love" immigration comments

For the 2016 campaign he seems to have settled on the idea of offering immigrants in the U.S. illegally "earned legal status," which will require immigrants to pass a criminal background check, pay a fine and taxes, learn English, and get work permits and jobs. He has said that the idea of "self-deportation," as proposed by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, or mass deportation, is "not an American value."

The border security and enforcement plan he offered earlier this month recycles some ideas from his book and doubles down on other policies already in use by the federal government, such as creating "forward-operating bases" at the border and using technology like drones to look for drug and human traffickers.

He also says the U.S. must do a better job of tracking immigrants who arrive legally but overstay their visas; require electronic employment verification; and crack down on "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Economy

The cornerstone of Bush's economic vision is "growth." In his presidential announcement speech in June, he said, "there is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year. And that will be my goal as president - 4 percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it." That would nearly double the rate of growth of the U.S. economy.

Many economists say it's an unrealistic goal, given broad economic trends like retiring baby boomers and a more global economy where better technology and low-wage workers overseas have supplanted U.S. jobs -- and therefore consumer spending.

He has pointed to issues like education as a way to address systemic problems like income inequality. "To address the income gap, let's close the opportunity gap, and that starts with doing everything we can to give every child, from every neighborhood, a great education," he said during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club in February.

Jeb Bush cites experience as he jumps into crowded presidential race

On taxes, Bush has called for corporate tax reform that would lower the rate in exchange for closing targeted loopholes, and he frequently boasts of having cut taxes by $19 billion while he was Florida's governor (the claim appears to include some federal tax cuts for which he had no responsibility). He did sign a number of tax cuts into law, including repealing the state tax on personal assets like investments.

One area where he could run into trouble with conservatives: He has refused to sign a pledge to oppose all tax increases from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist (a spokeswoman has said he won't sign any pledges from lobbying groups) and he has also suggested in the past that he would accept some new tax revenues in exchange for larger spending cuts as part of a deficit reduction package.

Social issues

In 2003, while he was the governor of Florida, Bush declared himself "probably the most pro-life governor in modern times" when he signed a bill into law that allowed him to order a feeding tube reinserted to save the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who was in a coma. Schiavo's husband had fought for the right to have the tube removed, saying his wife did not want to be kept alive artificially.

He also prevented public funds from being used for stem cell research and instituted a parental notification measure for teenage girls who were considering abortions while he was governor. In recent years, he has backed GOP efforts to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Undercover videos spark funding fight for Planned Parenthood

Bush has not made issues like his role in the Schiavo case a centerpiece of his campaign. But his stance on abortion and women's health have come up in light of undercover videos that have been released about Planned Parenthood's role in donating fetal tissue for research. Bush said last week that the organization should be defunded, but drew criticism for saying, "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues." He later said he misspoke and was only referring to the $500 million in government funding Planned Parenthood receives each year.

Meanwhile, after the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Bush said it should have been left up to the states.

"I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision," he said. "I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side."

Bush nodded at the importance of preserving religious liberty, as well, saying: "It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate."

Back in January, he had hinted at supporting some legal rights for gay couples, saying, "I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty." And he told Charlie Rose in 2012 that gay parents "should be held up as an example to others" if they "love their children with all their heart and soul and that's what they do and that's how they organize their life."

His stance now has evolved since he ran for governor in 1994, when he wrote in a Miami Herald op-ed, "[Should] sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No." He was arguing that people who are gay did not deserve special legal protection.

Foreign policy

Bush has outlined a generally hawkish foreign policy vision, criticizing President Obama for sowing chaos through disengagement while also distancing himself from the war his brother, former President George W. Bush, launched in Iraq.

The former Florida governor stumbled earlier this year on the question of Iraq, offering several days of shifting responses before ultimately saying he would not have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq if we knew then what we know now about the country's lack of weapons of mass destruction.

He called the invasion a "mistake" in the GOP primary debate last Thursday, but he argued in a speech on Tuesday that the 2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq secured a fragile peace in the country -- and that President Obama squandered that peace by removing all of America's troops.

"Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous," he said, citing the rise of extremists with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Bush said the U.S. needs to step up its assistance of Iraq's security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which are fighting ISIS on the ground, and he suggested the U.S. may need more troops -- and more flexibility -- in Iraq to train and assist our allies there.

"We do not need, and our friends do not ask for, a major commitment of American combat forces," he said. "But we do need to convey that we are serious, that we are determined to help local forces take back their country."

On other topics, as well, Bush has been fiercely critical of Mr. Obama. He's called the nuclear agreement with Iran "dangerous, deeply flawed and short-sighted," arguing it actually "paves Iran's path to a bomb." He's faulted the American response to Russian aggression in Ukraine as "tepid" and "feckless," pushing the president to send arms to the Ukrainian government. He's panned the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba, flatly ruling out a repeal of the Cuban trade embargo and saying the normalization of relations between the two countries is only strengthening the Castro regime's grip on power.

Bush has also called for increased military spending. He urged Congress in February to eliminate the automatic "sequester" spending cuts that have curbed military spending in recent years, arguing, "Our military is not a discretionary expense."