Jeb Speaks

Mark Halperin/TIME
Mark Halperin/TIME

Jeb Bush rarely sits down with national reporters on the record, so it was something of a special occasion Monday morning when he was the featured attraction at a breakfast editorial board convened by Bloomberg View in Manhattan. The meeting drew some of New York’s leading national political reporters and columnists, as well as others from Washington, who came up for the event in part because Jeb sessions are so uncommon.

No screaming headlines out of the nearly one-hour meeting, but Bush showed why he stands out from most of his party now. He not only defended his father’s frequently-demonized 1990 budget deal that included tax increases, but held it up as a model of good governance. He criticized Republicans for currently being a party of extreme litmus tests of ideological purity, suggesting that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t survive today’s absolutist standards. And, as he has in the past, he censured his party’s tone and policy on immigration, even making it clear that he disagrees with Mitt Romney on the issue, saying “I do feel a little out of step with my party” on immigration.

Despite those disagreements, more striking was Bush’s on-message denunciation of President Obama, saying he has from the earliestdays of his time in office “chose[n] to focus on things that put kerosene on the situation” and divided the country. And Bush was bearish on the economy. “In the short term, I can’t imagine” the economy getting better.

Perhaps the most interesting political tidbit: Having just spent the weekend with his brother George W., Jeb said 43 continues to tolerate President Obama’s refrain and complaint that he inherited many problems upon taking office. My brother, Bush said, is “incredibly disciplined” and never utters a negative word about the incumbent.

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