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Jeb Bush: McCain is a 'real hero, by the way...'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday sought to define his 2016 Republican presidential candidacy on leadership and reform.
Republican Presidential Candidates Speak At Faith & Freedom Coalition's \"Road to Majority\" Conference (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty ).
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's \"Road to Majority\" conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on June 19, 2015. 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday sought to define his 2016 Republican presidential candidacy on leadership and reform, dead set against the "arrogance" and "sheer incompetence" that he says is thriving at the nation's capital.

Outlining elements of his domestic priorities just a short stretch from where he served two-terms as governor in Tallahassee, Bush built on his legacy as a sharply conservative Florida leader while condemning a culture in Washington that he says lacks accountability.

“I took responsibility. That’s what Floridians deserve and that’s the kind of leadership that has been lacking in Washington and that is the kind of leadership that I will bring to Washington, D.C.,” Bush said to the crowd Monday.

Related: Bush says it’s time for Trump to apologize

Bush's efforts to set himself apart as a strong leader and Washington outsider by focusing on policy roll outs this week comes as his fellow presidential opponents jockey to stand out amid a very crowded GOP field. Bush, however, is taking a different tack than some of his competitors, notably skipping out on the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa over the weekend, where Donald Trump largely overshadowed the other 2016 hopefuls by declaring that Arizona Sen. John McCain was “not a war hero” despite being tortured in captivity during the Vietnam War. Trump then added, “He’s a war hero because he was captured, OK, I believe — perhaps he’s a war hero.”

The remarks caused a firestorm that continued into Monday, leading Bush to chime in offhand during his speech at Florida State University.

McCain a "real hero, by the way," Bush said to a round of applause.

His return to Florida gave Bush the chance to tout the record that earned him the moniker “Veto Corleone” -- a tagline referencing the Marlon Brando’s character in the classic Godfather movies -- after Bush line vetoed 2,500 separate items, totaling $2 billion over his two terms.

“It’s time to revive Veto Corleone. The president should be able to eliminate wasteful spending through a constitutionally sound line-item veto,” Bush said.

Bush acknowledged how the state’s capital used to be referred as “Mount Tallahassee” for its remote location from residents and being settled in its establishment ways. He vowed that if elected, he would not let the same happen again in building a "Mount Washington."

Related: Trump: ‘I don’t need to be lectured by failed politicians’

“The overspending, the overreaching, the arrogance, and the sheer incompetence in that city – these problems have been with us so long that they are sometimes accepted as facts of life,” Bush said. "But a president should never accept them, and I will not.”

The challenge for Bush would be whether he can define himself beyond his famous last name and cast himself as the reformer of Washington when he is the son and brother of two former U.S. presidents. Bush on Monday criticized big government and lawmaker's proclivity to let budgets balloon, asking for more accountability for Congress to justify spending. 

"This era of excuses is drawing to an end. There’s some lost time to make up, and we can do it. Real economic growth is achievable, and I have set a goal of four percent a year. Balanced budgets, and debt that is finally under control, are also within our power to accomplish," he said. "And the driving force must be a presidential-level challenge to the culture of spending. This is essential and achievable in a single term – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."