Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush kicked off his campaign before the campaign today, speaking at the Detroit Economic Club and laying out his “reform conservative” agenda ahead of a likely 2016 run for the White House.
So, what did he reveal about his potential 2016 run?
The Bush Family Name
Love them or hate them, American voters all have an opinion on the Bush family and the former Florida governor knows he will have to distinguish himself from the Bush name and legacy. He recounted how he did it during his 1998 run for governor of Florida, telling the audience he had to “share my heart” and show voters “you’ve got to care for people before you can get their vote.”
Bush said he visited 250 schools during that campaign: "By the end of that journey people knew I wasn’t just the brother of George W. and the son of my beloved dad. I was my own person.”
He added that connecting to American voters must be part of a “national strategy” for the GOP.
Bush stressed that he “loves my dad,” joking that if anyone disagrees he would be willing to “go outside” unless they are much bigger or younger, and then they could “negotiate.”
“And I love my brother, I think he was a great president,” he said. “And I’m proud of them and I love them.”
But he said he knows if he does run for president he’s going to have to “do it on my own.”
Bush isn't in the race yet, but some conservatives are already trying to portray him as a moderate on the issue of immigration, while Democrats say he's trying to have it both ways.
He called the issue one of “great frustration,” saying it should be the “lowest-hanging fruit.”
“This is a huge opportunity. Immigration is not a problem,” he said. “The immigrant experience in our country makes us unique and special and different, and it is part of our extraordinary success.”
Bush said “securing the border” should be the “highest priority," and outlined other aspects of his position.
“Investors, 'dreamers,' people that come to our great universities, all these people should be welcomed in our country," he said. "And the unwritten contract ought to be: Embrace our values and you can pursue your dreams in this great country -- and by doing so you are creating opportunity for more people.”
The GOP Primary
Questioned about the party primary process, Bush called politics “chaotic” and the current system a “Wild West-kind of process.”
He noted his party’s “desire to win” after “eight years in exile,” saying, “I think there will be some discipline to be able to recognize how important this race is for the importance of the country.”
He added that the Republican National Committee’s limiting of debates and shortening of the primary period is “helpful” and could “take away some of the chaos.”
“It’s a big deal. There’s a lot riding on this, and so my guess [is that] there will be a lot of people running, and people will hopefully focus on what they are for, why them,” he said. “And [Bush hopes there's an effort] not to tear down the other people all time. ... People are tired of it.”
Broadening the GOP
Bush didn’t launch his “Right to Rise” tour in a diner in Manchester, New Hampshire, or a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. Instead, he gave his first policy speech of the cycle in Detroit, pitching a message of solutions to economic hardship, trying to broaden the reach of the Republican Party.
“I know some in the media think conservatives don't care about the cities,” he said. “But they are wrong. We believe that every American and every community has a right to pursue happiness. ... So I say: Let’s go where our ideas can matter most, where the failures of liberal government are most obvious. Let’s deliver real conservative success. And you know what will happen? We’ll create a whole lot of new conservatives.”
Bush has said he will likely run a general-election-focused campaign and today he laid out issues that will likely become his message to American voters, including a topic that is more often stressed by Democratic candidates: income inequality.
Calling it an “urgent issue,” Bush said, “Far too many Americans live on the edge of economic ruin” and the “American Dream has become a mirage for far too many.
“Many more feel like they’re stuck in place, working longer and harder, even as they’re losing ground,” he said.
In an apparent nod to the coming campaign, Bush said he will “address this critical issue” and “offer a new vision.”
"The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington, D.C., solution,” he said. “But that instinct doesn’t solve any problem other than the problem of how to keep Washington’s regional economy well-lubricated.”