Detroit (CNN)Jeb Bush on Wednesday introduced the core principles of an economic platform that could become the central tenant of an eventual presidential campaign.
Bush pitches economic vision, test runs campaign message in Detroit
In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, the former Florida governor tapped into the struggles of "too many Americans (who) live on the edge of economic ruin," debuting what Bush dubbed a "new vision" to create more economic opportunity in the U.S. and give Americans "the right to rise."
"The recovery has been everywhere but in American paychecks. The American Dream has become a mirage for far too many. So the central question we face here in Detroit and across America is this: Can we restore that dream -- that moral promise -- that each generation can do better?" Bush said Wednesday in the financially faltering city of Detroit. "We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have a right to rise."
Bush played off those words throughout the speech -- he said "right to rise" six times on Wednesday -- as he harped on a theme he unveiled when he announced his potential candidacy in December and established a PAC by the same name: The Right to Rise PAC.
The potential presidential candidate also appeared to distinguish himself from the 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Bush defended the millions of Americans struggling financially, testing his brand of what aides called "reform conservatism" that appears similar to his brother's "compassionate conservatism."
Bush said those Americans are not held back by a "lack of ambition" or "hope" and "not because they're lazy or see themselves as victims."
That remark draws a quick contrast with Romney, whose candidacy took a hit after a video of him surfaced in which he called out 47% of Americans "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims."
Bush also didn't shy away from his family name, which could burden an eventual candidacy.
Instead he opened his remarks by embracing it, saying he loves both presidents "41 and 43," his father and brother, even if "that's pretty hard for the political world to accept."
It's no coincidence that Bush delivered his maiden 2016 policy speech not in the first caucus state of Iowa or in the first primary state of New Hampshire, but here in one of the most notoriously economically troubled cities in the nation.
The deliberate move is telling of the emerging Bush campaign strategy, and Bush sources tell CNN that the location will send as much of a message as the words he will utter: that he wants to try to be a different kind of GOP presidential candidate.
But Bush also used Detroit to highlight the failure of Democratic policies, calling it an example of "decades: of big government politics and "chronic mismanagement."
"The troubles of Detroit are echoes of the troubles facing Washington, D.C.," Bush said.
The theme also offered a stark contrast with the picture of economic recovery Democrats have painted, just weeks after President Barack Obama told Americans in his State of the Union Address touted the country's economic resurgence during his time in office.
Instead, Bush focused on the shortfalls of the recovery, pointing to lagging median incomes, the record number of Americans living on food stamps and the struggles of ordinary Americans who are "living paycheck to paycheck."
The solution for Bush is to break from the "Washington, D.C. solution" and embrace conservative reforms.
"Let's embrace reform everywhere, especially in our government. Let's start with the simple principle of who holds the power. I say give Washington less and give states and local governments more," Bush said.
As he touted his economic vision for America, Bush affirmed that the economic proposals he will unveil in the coming months are "rooted in conservative principles" and he issued a rallying call in his speech to "deliver real conservative success."
"And you know what will happen? We'll create a whole lot of new conservatives," Bush said.
As he emphasized the conservatism of his policies in his speech, Bush also did not shy away from his views on immigration, which are at odds with much of the party's conservative base.
"Immigration's not a problem," Bush said. "While the political fights are going on we're missing this opportunity."
That opportunity, Bush explained, is to fix the immigration system in order to boost the economy, by welcoming guest workers and highly-skilled individuals, for example.
Bush called immigration a unique facet of the U.S. and one that Americans should embrace.
"The American experience works when people embrace a set of shared values," Bush said. "You come, you work hard, you embrace these values and you're as American as anybody that came on the Mayflower."
But still, Bush stressed that the federal government needs to "secure the border first and foremost" and he called out Obama's executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
In a lighter moment, Bush also called being governor the "greatest job in the world."
Bush hoped to use the speech to introduce a key element of any campaign -- that the party must be as clear on what they are for as what they are against.
Bush's event was the first in a series of speeches he will give over the next several months as he introduces his ideas to a national audience.
Aides said he is in an unusual position because people know who he is but, outside of his home state of Florida, not so much what he is about.
Over the past two months or so he has been expressing his ideas to the GOP donor class in private meetings around the country as he began to court people who would help fund a presidential run.
Now he is beginning to test his message on the public.