DETROIT – Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called on Americans to “embrace reform everywhere, especially in our government,” in a speech here on Wednesday.
But Bush, who spoke at the Detroit Economic Club, was light on policy specifics, raising the question of just what “reform” really means.
In an interview with msnbc and The New York Times, the potential 2016 presidential candidate conceded that his address was more about outlining the nation’s problems rather than offering specific policy solutions. Bush’s staff has said the speech was the first in a series of addresses the Republican will make on restoring America’s “right to rise.”
One wing of Republican thinkers has been calling itself “reform conservatives” and promoting more direct government intervention to combat issues like income inequality, which Bush focused on in his speech. Bush himself met recently with one of the more prominent voices in the movement, National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru.
“They’re bright, really bright,” Bush told msnbc. “I‘ve always believed the things that don’t work, we should fix them. That is the definition of reforming, and during my years as governor, I tried hard to do that. We have broken systems, we need them to work. To be successful in the 21st century we got to bring all these things into the 21st century to help people. I don’t self describe myself, I let others do that. But ‘reform oriented,’ those are good terms, I’ll take those.”The “reformer” ideas proposed by conservative wonks like Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru and others have not gone unchallenged on the right. Some have proposed targeted tax cuts for middle class families, an idea embraced by President Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio alike. But that runs against others in the GOP who are more concerned with lowering tax rates for business or even overhauling the tax code so rates are similar across all income groups, an idea that could effectively raise taxes for many low income Americans.
Asked how he would reconcile his own goals of combating economic inequality with the party’s business wing, Bush ticked off a list.
“Simplifying the tax code, simplifying how we create rules on top of every aspect of human endeavor, fix our immigration system to turn it into an economic driver, embracing the energy revolution that’s here for us to capitalize [on] for the long haul, all of those things will create opportunity for people,” he said. “Then you have to make sure they have the capacity to create earned success. You have kids that are growing up unable to get the first job because they don’t have the skills or the training programs. Our education is really designed for the 20th century.”
RELATED: Jeb’s past vs. Jeb’s future
Asked whether he favored tax cuts targeted specifically at bolstering family wages, Bush replied: “More to come on that. Stay tuned.”
Bush’s path to the Republican nomination widened last week with the surprising exit of his chief rival, Mitt Romney, who had been considering a bid of his own. The two met in Park City, Utah last month, but Bush said he didn’t get any advance notice that Romney would drop out.
“We had a good cordial conversation,” he said. “He’s a good man. I didn’t know what he was going to do.”
The meeting between the two was scheduled before either had announced they were looking seriously at a presidential run, but the former Republican governors decided to go through with it anyway. According to Bush, Romney managed to keep the awkwardness to a minimum.
“He was so gracious about it. It turned out fine,” he said.