Newcomer to Koch scene, Bush competes with tea party class
Columbus, Ohio — Casting himself as a tax-cutting, passionate government reformer, Jeb Bush drew merely polite applause Friday from thousands of the nation’s most-active tea party conservatives gathered at the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers’ summit.
Only when the Republican presidential candidate wrapped up his 20-minute speech by calling for a military buildup did the more than 3,000 conservatives from around the nation join in a sustained cheer for Bush, a familiar face in American politics but a newcomer in front of the tea party crowd.
“I promise you, if I’m elected president of the United States, I will restore the traditional role of the United States as a leader for peace and security,” Bush declared at the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity.
He snapped a salute to the audience before he left the stage.
Industrialists Charles and David Koch have cracked open a door to tea party support for Bush, a welcome opportunity for the former Florida governor whose presidential competitors include several big tea party success stories.
He was addressing the Kochs’ flagship conservative political organization’s annual summit for the first time.
For most of his speech, even Bush’s most impassioned lines were met with only applause during an event that has the feel of a rock concert, complete with pyrotechnics during the National Anthem and a Olympic-style torch inside the convention hall.
“We are going to win as conservatives if we solve problems by reforming things for everybody,” Bush said, his voice echoing until applause began to trickle across the hall.
The Kochs introduced Bush earlier this month to some of the most generous donors in their political network. And about a month ago, Bush shared the stage with a top Americans for Prosperity official at a town hall in New Hampshire, the first primary state.
Such overtures are giving him a chance to develop goodwill among activists and donors aligned with the tea party, the limited-government movement that came to prominence two years after Bush left office in Florida in 2007. Supporters hope his performance in Columbus could help him poach some of the activists who worked to elect Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, all of them now presidential contenders.
“There are some things in his record we like, and want to hear more about his economic agenda and how he’s going to get this country moving,” Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said about Bush. “We’re not endorsing anyone. But for those reasons, we’re glad to have him at the summit.”
Bush noted what he sees as a key difference between himself and tea party favorites Rubio of Florida and Cruz of Texas, who speak to the summit Saturday. “Talking about it is fine. But now we need leadership,” Bush said.
Jindal addressed the convention Friday. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is also scheduled to speak Saturday.
Notably absent is Ohio’s own Gov. John Kasich, whose office is near the convention hall.
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