He reiterated his education reforms (assigning schools grades, school choice, eliminating tenure and social promotion, rewarding good teachers) and boasted of the significant improvement in Florida Hispanic students’ educational performance, graduation rates and college attendance. He enthused, “You can move the needle.” Sprinkled throughout he talked about people he had met — the mother of a child with severely disabilities, the high school student who could not do a simple math program.
From there he briefly described his “right to rise” idea — the belief that all Americans regardless of birth or race can rise to their full potential. Reeling off a list of objectives to grow the economy, he listed tax reform, regulatory reform and then immigration. It was the latter that he spoke about most passionately. Unlike other candidates who see foreigners as a threat or problem, he plainly does not. “Immigration is a key element of our country’s success,” he said. His basic concept: Fix the border, repair our legal immigration system and allow 11 million people to “come out of the shadows” to obtain earned legal status. “This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” he observed.
In talking about families, he emphasized that America is a “self-governing” country that assumes there will be committed family life to provide the building blocks of society. He conceded that there may not necessarily be a government program but that political and community leaders need to encourage and stress the benefits of families without fear “of being politically correct.”
He briefly mentioned foreign policy. “America must be engaged in the world. Our friends need to know we have their back. Our enemies need to fear us.” He got the loudest applause for his call to re-establish a strong relationship with Israel. And he ended with a call for a foreign policy “that stands on our values” and with persecuted and oppressed people.
Why was this the best speech he has given? It was personal, he spoke about the faith that motivates him, he let people know what he has done and about his passion for helping the most vulnerable. That, it seems, is the basis for a stump speech and an agenda. With more meat on the bones of individual policies, he can assure Republicans that he is a conservative reformer. What was and will be most important for him is the ability to relate with emotion his life experience and how that translates into policy and plans for the country. Indeed, that is what every candidate must do.