For his first major speech since confirming that he's exploring a presidential run, Jeb Bush chose an interesting location: Detroit.
Speaking to the city's Economic Club, an establishment institution in the Motor City for more than eight decades, he praised the city's emergence from bankruptcy.
"You all are part of a great story — the revival of a city that means so much to all Americans," he told the lunchtime crowd of about 650 people. The mood had brightened significantly in Detroit over the past year. The region's automakers are again selling lots of cars and making money. General Motors announced Wednesday that it earned a net income of $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014.
But the former governor of Florida also pointed to Detroit as a cautionary tale, saying the city's deep and prolonged troubles "are an echo of the troubles facing Washington, D.C." And he says he knew how Detroit hit rock bottom: "Decades of big government policies, petty politics, impossible-to-meet pension promises, chronic mismanagement and broken services — combined with a massive loss of jobs in the auto industry — drove tens of thousands of people from this city and this region."
The core of the speech was the need to create opportunity for those who, as Bush put it, "see only a small portion of the population riding the economy's up escalator."
The sense for the yet-to-be-announced "Jeb Bush for President" campaign is that the message has much more resonance in Detroit than it would in Des Moines, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H., where the first contests of 2016 are now just barely a year away.
Other highlights of Bush's Detroit speech include his reflections on what it means to be the son of a president, and brother of a president, potentially running for president himself:
"On one level, you know, I've had a front-row seat to watch history unfold, a unique seat. It's given me some perspectives that are helpful," he said.
"On another level, I know it's an interesting challenge for me. One that, if I have any degree of self-awareness, this would be the place where it might want to be applied. So, if I was to go beyond the consideration of running, I would have to deal with this and turn this fact into an opportunity, to share who I am, to connect on a human level."
Then there was this, on the 2012 GOP primary lineup, which one question from the audience likened to the bar scene from the movie Star Wars. Bush was asked how he anticipated the 2016 Republican primary playing out.
After a hearty laugh, and a joke that he'd get in trouble just listening to the question, he answered: "Look, politics is chaotic. ... The idea that there's some smoke-filled room where big dogs, men and women, that have all this power decide who's going to be what, that was gone a long time ago. And as the old order has been disrupted, it's been replaced by a little more of a Wild West kind of process."
Finally, Bush was also asked about what has all of a sudden become the hot-button topic of the week in the race for the White House — vaccinations.
Here's the question, and Bush's entire answer from Detroit:
Q: Vaccinations are in the news. Few potential presidential candidates have stumbled on that issue this week. What's your opinion on vaccinations?
Bush: Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated. [Applause] Do we need to get any detail with that? I mean, just seems, um, look it's easy; I've done this; I've said things that are misinterpreted or partially interpreted and then heads explode and all sorts of media, you know, just create all this controversy. I think it's better just to say parents have the responsibility to make sure their children are protected, over and out.
So Bush has his first big speech of the year out of the way.
Now we wait, to see when he ventures into Iowa and New Hampshire where voters are anxious to get a glimpse of him in person.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Jeb Bush is not officially a candidate for president yet. But today he delivered what felt like the first major speech of his increasingly likely campaign for the White House. And he did it not in Iowa or New Hampshire, the first caucus in primary states, but in Detroit. Joining us from Detroit is NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Hey there, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi there.
CORNISH: So to start, why Detroit?
GONYEA: It's an interesting choice. He could have done it in Des Moines or Manchester. But if you want to talk about economic opportunity and those Americans who feel that they've been left behind by the slow pace of the recovery, this is a good place to do it. He talked about people wondering if there's an escalator anywhere that will lift them up.
Of course, Detroit's car companies are coming back. They're making big profits. The city has emerged from bankruptcy. And there's a pretty good feeling in this town now, but it's still a place that's paying for its past troubles, which Jeb Bush pointed out. He said those troubles came about because of decades of mismanagement and empty promises. And he warned that what happened in Detroit is something that the rest of the country could learn a lot from.
CORNISH: And this isn't the first time a member of the Bush family has delivered a closely-watched speech at the Detroit Economic Club, right? I mean, did he mention the advantages or disadvantages of the family name?
GONYEA: His father, the president, has spoken here. His brother the president has spoken here. He did mention the family name. It came up several times. At one point during the Q&A - and what they do for the Q&A is they have people fill out index cards on the tables, and they get passed up to the moderator. But the moderator reads one and says so your last name is Bush. And Jeb Bush responds so I've been told. And then he went on with this...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEB BUSH: I love my dad. In fact, my dad is the greatest man alive. And I love my brother, and I think he's been a great president. It doesn't bother me a bit to be proud of them and love them. But I know for a fact that if I'm going to be successful going beyond the consideration, then I'm going to have to do it on my own.
GONYEA: And again, when he says beyond the consideration, he's saying I haven't decided yet if I'm going to run, though everybody assumes he is in this room. And if anybody thought he'd distance himself from his brother George W - not so.
CORNISH: One more thing, Don, you know, we've been hearing today and in the last few days, frankly, about the vaccination debate. It seems like it took center stage in the 2016 presidential campaign discussion. Wheat did Jeb Bush have to say?
GONYEA: It's odd that it's become like the first hot-button issue of the campaign. And recall that Senator Rand Paul said that vaccinations should be voluntary. Governor Chris Christie said parents should have a choice. In this piece of tape, first you'll hear the moderator asking the question - nobody was surprised that it came up - and then you'll hear from Jeb Bush.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Vaccinations are in the news. A few potential presidential candidates have stumbled on that issue this week. What's your opinion on vaccinations?
BUSH: Parents ought to make sure their children's - children are vaccinated.
GONYEA: And what's key here is how short that is. He doesn't say and each parent should make that decision. He says parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated. And he went on just a little bit and then he said over and out, basically saying don't misinterpret what I've said.
CORNISH: Don, you've heard so many of these speeches. In the end, how do you feel about the response? How did the speech go over?
GONYEA: It went over well. This is the kind of place where Jeb Bush would go over well. He's an establishment figure. This is an establishment, pro-business crowd - the Detroit Economic Club - very august institution founded in 1934. He was well received. People I talked to afterward gave him very high marks. They were glad he came.
CORNISH: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea speaking to us from Detroit. Don, thanks so much.
GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.