Jeb Bush pushes to repair U.S. relations with allies

Chad Livengood and Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used his Friday prime-time speech to influential Michigan Republicans to push for a culture change in Washington and repairing America’s relations with its allies abroad and to the north.

Bush was the first GOP presidential hopeful to address the Michigan Republican Party’s biennial leadership conference of more than 2,200 party leaders, donors and activists gathered this weekend at the Grand Hotel.

Bush said President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policies have led to a less secure world and hindered relations with Israel and Canada, America’s closest trading partner that also borders Michigan.

“The relationship has been ruptured,” Bush said of U.S.-Canada relations.

If elected president, Bush vowed to restore relations with Israel, which have been strained by the Democratic Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over preventing the enemy of Israel from developing a nuclear weapon.

“There should be no gap between us and Israel,” Bush said.

Bush also indirectly commented on a national controversy Friday involving front-runner Donald Trump. The New York billionaire didn’t contest a Thursday town hall participant’s description of Obama as a Muslim and not an American as he declared that Muslims are a problem in the United States.

Trump responded with feigned exasperation — “We need the question,” he said — and allowed the man to continue.

Bush took aim at Obama during his half-hour speech, but pointedly noted it was about his ideology.

“By the way, he’s an American, he’s Christian,” Bush said. “His problem is he’s a progressive liberal.”

He took another veiled shot at Trump by saying, “We don’t run a campaign looking down at things with an angry voice.”

Bush laid out a series of domestic policy proposals he said would balance the federal budget and change the public’s perception of partisan divisions in Washington.

He called for giving the next president line item-veto power, a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and slashing the federal bureaucracy 10 percent.

“Changing the culture would change the whole attitude about Washington,” Bush said.

After joking about the “entertaining” value of Wednesday’s GOP debate in California, Bush said it’s “not about the personalities on that stage.”

“It’s about the single mom who’s worried that their kid is stuck in a failing school, and is on a waiting list to get to a high-performing charter school in Detroit.”

Grand Rapids businessman Peter Secchia, who served as ambassador to Italy under Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, infused a bit of humor in his introduction of Bush.

“I’m up here because Barbara Bush called me. And she was very upset because Jeb admitted to smoking grass last week,” Secchia said, referencing Bush’s admission in Wednesday’s GOP debate to smoking marijuana in his youth.

Secchia attempted to address the looming issue among some Republicans about putting a third member of the Bush family in the White House.

“It’s a shame that he had to sit around and wait because he was probably ready to be president a long time ago,” Secchia said.

During his speech, the son and brother of two former presidents portrayed his last name as an asset, not a political liability.

“The next president needs to restore these relationships and create peace and security — and I know how to do that,” Bush said. “I know how to do this because, yes, I am a Bush. I happen to have seen two really good presidents develop relationships with other countries.”

Bush said Friday Republicans need to “embrace the energy revolution” of gas and oil exploration.

“Their team wants to create rules on top of this incredible American success story,” Bush said of Democrats. “We should be on the sides of entrepreneurs who are investing in high-wage jobs” through the development of North American energy.

Herb and Olivia Scott of Canton said they came away impressed with Bush’s proposal to stem the practice of companies that reincorporate overseas to lessen their tax burden.

“It was one of the best speeches that I’ve heard him give,” Scott said. “I think his tax proposal on inversions is something that definitely needs to be looked at on the federal level.”

“He came in and hit all the points that we wanted to hear,” added Olivia Scott, who noted that Bush was taller than she expected. “He still hasn’t won us over yet. We’re still going to listen to the others this weekend.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker starts Saturday’s meetings with a breakfast speech, followed by lunch addresses by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and dinner speeches by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Kasich, Fiorina and Paul planned to spend most of Saturday on the island, attending receptions and meeting with supporters. Cruz plans to rally his supporters at Mackinac Island’s public school before his lunchtime address.

The conference started two days after the six White House hopefuls shared the debate stage Wednesday night at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Pundits gave Fiorina high marks for her command of domestic and foreign affairs as well as sparring with Trump, who is skipping the Mackinac Island confab.

“I think that she is going to be a center of attention here,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Friday in an interview with The News. Calley remains neutral in the presidential race, but planned to introduce Kasich Saturday.

The Bush forces, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, hope to use the three-day conference to build a coalition that will match his fundraising advantage over other presidential candidates.

Carson plans

Michigan trip

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is returning to Michigan next week to campaign in Jackson and Spring Arbor, his campaign said Friday.

After a day of stumping in Ohio, Detroit native Carson will address a Wednesday afternoon rally at Spring Arbor University, a Free Methodist Church college in Spring Arbor.

Earlier that day, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon will speak at a Jackson County Republican Party event in Jackson, where Republicans claim their party began in 1854.

-- Melissa Nann Burke