Jeb Bush acknowledged that he had something he wanted to get off his chest, and he did.
Appearing Thursday at a Republican convention that has barely mentioned his brother — two-term President George W. Bush — Jeb Bush took a point of personal prerogative (he is, after all, also the son of a former president), to honor his brother and scold the man who followed him into the Oval Office.
“Mr. President,” said the former two-term Florida governor. “It’s time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. A real leader would have accepted responsibility for your actions, and you haven’t done it.”
Bush’s tribute to his brother was short, and delivered with an affectionate smile.
“My brother,” he said, “Well, I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor. And during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.”
What followed was the kind of speech Jeb Bush, 59, has been giving a lot of lately, one promoting reform and school choice, dinging teachers unions and speaking of education as the ultimate key to equality.
Like some of the other speakers at the convention, though, his time on the podium seemed as much about his own passions as it did the point of the evening. Mitt Romney was mentioned by name only three times, with the first coming more than five minutes into his 15 minutes on stage.
It was a popular speech with the delegates, more popular than many of Jeb Bush’s recent observations about his own party.
He’s become a bit of an agent provocateur, needling Republicans, including this year’s field of presidential hopefuls, for what he’s characterized as its refusal to seek common ground, and for the harsh tone it has taken on immigration.
He roiled many Republicans when he suggested in a June interview with Bloomberg that both his father, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan would have a tough time capturing the GOP presidential nomination in today’s hyper-partisan environment.
Here’s what he said in that June interview:
“Ronald Reagan would have had, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad – they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground.”
He knocked the GOP primary field, too, and their hard-line immigration positions, with this comment in February after a speech in Dallas:
“I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that’s kid of where we are.”
More recently, Bush has become a vocal contrarian within his party on immigration. Bush’s wife, Columba, is a Mexican native whom Jeb met on a high school program. He is fluent in Spanish, and often gave parts of speeches bilingually as governor.
Recent polling is showing Obama leading Romney by some 40 percentage points among Latino voters. That’s even more lopsided than the 2008 election results, when Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain, 67-31 percent, among Hispanic voters.
This week in Tampa, Jeb Bush told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that Republicans need to rethink their approach to immigration, the tone they take while doing so, and to find a solution to the DREAM Act, which allows young people brought to the country illegally as minors a path to citizenship under certain circumstances:
“Immigration is a gateway, basically. It’s a check-off point for Latino voters. They want to hear about these bigger, broader issues. Finding a permanent solution to the DREAM Act, qualified people is definitely the responsibility of the next president. … I think from a political point of view, across the county, across the long haul, Republicans need to be more respectful of voters they are trying to attract.”
His comments were echoed Thursday by former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, warned Republicans that they risk being relegated to minority-party status if they don’t adopt a more open attitude toward the fastest growing ethnic minority.
S.V. Dáte contributed to this story.