Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called for an aspirational, big-tent conservative movement Friday night, telling leaders that the GOP "must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate."
"Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs because those voters feel unwanted, unloved and unwelcome in our party."
Bush started off a bit stiff and stumbling, though he warmed up a bit as the speech progressed. He spent most of the speech reading from notes and his delivery lacked the energy of other CPAC speakers such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and even Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). While he got a standing ovation at the end of his remarks, the speech may not have helped convince many movement conservatives that Bush should be their leader heading forward, and it did little to show that he's shaken off the rust from six years away from public office.
Most CPAC headliners have focused on a way forward for the GOP, but Bush was the most explicit about the need for the party to change.
Bush fumbled his new book's rollout last week, tripping over questions about whether he could support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The CPAC dinner gave him the chance to address a number of top conservatives and be a part of the influential three-day event while avoiding the libertarian-leaning young activists that dominate the audience during the day.
Bush said the U.S. was on the brink of widespread growth, but that "our federal spending addiction and the lackluster system of education are the two greatest impediments" and wouldn't "be undone if we continue to lose presidential elections."
"Never again can the Republican Party simply write off entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal. They have broad appeal and we need to be larger than that," he said to applause. "I'm here to tell you there is no us or them. 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."
--This report was updated at 10:34 p.m.