Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush vigorously defended the presidency of his brother, George W. Bush, to a full standing ovation at the Republican National Convention on Thursday.
Bush centered his speech on education reform, but went off his prepared remarks to lash out at President Obama for attributing the broken economy to failings of his older brother.
The packed crowd of the Tampa Bay Times Forum went wild with applause. Bush then switched gears to put teachers unions on the chopping block as he made Mitt Romney’s case for reforming the U.S. education system.
Bush said states would have to take the lead on improving the education system but that Romney would press hard for the rights of parents to choose the school their child attends.
“You can either help the politically powerful unions or you can help the kids,” said Bush. “Now, I know it's hard to take on the unions. They fund campaigns, they're well-organized.”
“But you and I know who deserves a choice. Governor Romney knows it, too.”
Romney has not spoken often of education reform on the campaign trail, with the primary focus revolving around jobs and the economy. Instead, several of his powerful surrogates, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have taken hard hits at teacher unions as they pushed for school choice rights.
Bush got an awkward laugh from the Republican crowd as he made a comparison between a person’s ability to choose what type of milk they want to buy at a grocery store to a parent’s option to choose the type of school their child goes to.
“They even make milk for people who can't drink milk,” said Bush. “Shouldn't parents have that kind of choice in schools?”
“Governor Romney gets it. He believes parents - regardless of zip code or income - should be able to send their child to the school that fits them best.”
In a strange slight to Bush, current Florida Gov. Rick Scott was seen making his way down an aisle on the convention floor shaking hands, talking, and taking pictures with delegates during the first half of Bush's speech.
Many initially thought Bush was planning to speak about immigration. The Romney campaign has looked to Bush, as the governor of a state with more than 1.4 million registered Latino voters, to help deliver Hispanics, which Republicans will surely need in order to take the White House.
But Bush’s only two plays toward Latinos were in his opening statement when he welcomed the crowd to Florida in Spanish, and when he touted the vastly improved standings for Hispanic students in Florida.
Bush compared the United States’ education ranking to those of China and India, saying that to the country’s security would be threatened if an emphasis isn’t placed on improving the education of young Americans.
"To have a great future — a secure future — a future that is equal to our potential as a nation, we must make sure that our children and grandchildren are ready for the world we are shaping today," he said.
The Bush family has been long been involved in
education. Former President George W. Bush took the lead in pushing
Congress to pass the No Child Left Behind law. His wife, Laura Bush, made literacy and
reading a top issue during her eight years on Pennsylvania Ave.
This story was last updated at 9:42 p.m.