NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Saying his party has become all too often associated with being "anti-everything," from immigration to gay rights to science, Jeb Bush in a speech Friday night made a forceful case for Republicans to cast a "larger" vision.
"Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates, even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party," the former Florida governor said.
"We must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate. Never again can the Republican Party simply write off entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal. We need to be larger than that."
Enjoying a surge of exposure due to his new book on immigration reform, Bush has fanned talk he's preparing to run for president in 2016, and Friday's speech amplified that.
But Bush seemed to be talking to a larger audience than the hard-core conservatives who dined on sea bass before his 8:45 p.m. speech. The spare applause in a ballroom at the Gaylord National hotel ranged from cordial to tepid.
While Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared Thursday, "We don't need a new idea," Bush said the party needed a new tone and message.
"I'm here to tell you there is no 'us' or 'them,' " said Bush, 60. "The face of the Republican Party needs to be the face of every American, and we need to be the party of inclusion and acceptance. It's our heritage and our future and we need to couch our efforts in those terms."
Bush considers himself a policy wonk and he offered a plan called "the right to rise."
First, he said, "we need to reestablish in America the idea that success is a good thing. Rather than being viewed with distaste and suspicion, success desperately needs to be cool again."
He called for a "transformation of education based on standards benchmarked to the best of the world and a system of no-excuses accountability"; a government that helps create a level playing field and then steps back; and be more reliant on mentoring, churches and charities rather than "a thousand government programs."
Bush bragged about his eight years as governor, saying the budget was balanced each year (as required by law) while he cut taxes annually.
In a sign he is in campaign mode, Bush re-told the story of a Florida woman who urged him in his first run for governor to do something for the disabled. He did, he told the audience.
"We used to be the party that understood personal connections and that they mattered," Bush said. "We need to be that party again."