Republicans considering running for president over the past six years have been delivering red meat to the base at conservative confabs.
But Jeb Bush Friday did not fit the mold.
The former Florida governor, mulling a 2016 bid, followed the retiring firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at the Faith and Freedom Coalition. But while Bachmann and the other speakers here, including Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- the 2012 vice-presidential nominee -- treaded familiar turf by railing against government and President Barack Obama, Bush didn’t go there.
“I won’t be pointing out the failures of the Obama administration,” Bush said to silence here. “They’re clear for those that want to see them.”
Instead, Bush laid out a detailed, four-point plan to grow the economy that included American energy, immigration reform, education, and family.
“I’d rather talk about how conservatives can govern again,” Bush said, “to begin to solve our pressing problems.”
A comment Bush made about immigrants’ higher rates of “fertility” drew much of the attention and distracted the cognoscenti in Washington.
"Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans,” Bush said. “Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity."
Bush was awkwardly trying to point out that heavily Catholic, recent Hispanic immigrants have more children, in the way that Italian and Irish immigrants once did. Of course, that’s changing among younger Hispanics, as it did for the Italians and Irish. as the generations grew up in America and fully assimilated.
But that was a small moment in what was a speech that stood out for its tone and seriousness. It was a stark contrast to what has been seen at many of these conferences, as a host of Republicans have jockeyed for the limelight and the Republican nominations for 2008 and 2012.
In addition to the usual Republican points of entitlement reform, regulatory reform, and tax-code reform, Bush called for four points he said could increase growth in the U.S. to 3.5 to 4 percent per year over the next decade:
1.Encourage North American energy production, notably natural gas, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, rational fracking regulations, opening lands up for drilling, helping Mexico modernize its oil sector.
2.Approve comprehensive-immigration reform because immigrants are entrepreneurial (and “are more fertile,” and those more children can help fix the imbalance in entitlement support). This would include a legal pathway that include fines and penalties, H1 visas, and a guest-worker program.
3.Reform education by raising standards, grading schools based on student achievement, like in Florida, eliminate social promotion in third grade, focus on early literacy, expand school choice/vouchers.
4.Family: “No amount of growth nor transformed education system will be sustainable if strong family faith isn’t the backbone of any American renewal,” Bush said. But he didn’t toe the conservative line on “traditional” families. “We have to be supportive of the single mom” and the “grandmother,” as well as other non-traditional families, Bush said (though he derided the Democrats’ attempts to fix these issues through policy.)
Bush’s prescription certainly will not win over everyone, and plenty will disagree that his plan will improve the economy in the way that he touts. But it was clearly a different tone and a civil speech on serious issues.
Ironically, in addition to his famous last name, that moderate tone (and moderate policy on immigration) may be one of Bush’s biggest hurdle to a Republican nomination.
The crowd here greeted him politely and seemed impressed by his thoughtfulness. But following him was Ryan.
“The left likes to think we’re the fringe,” Ryan said. “Guess what, you, me, us, we’re the mainstream.”
When Ryan was finished, he got a standing ovation.