Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush answers questions from reporters in Salem, N.H. on May 21. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

With the field of Republican presidential contenders expanding quickly, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sought to cast himself as a seasoned leader while faulting other candidates for shifting course to fit public opinion.

Bush is not yet an official presidential candidate, but he suggested that others already in the race are being needlessly combative and that the eventual GOP presidential nominee should be "hopeful and optimistic instead of grumpy and kind of reactionary."

"I think a lot of leaders in public life or aspiring leaders get overwhelmed by the here and now, they change their views because they’re trying to mirror the sentiments of the time. And they get lost," he said at one point.

"The president is more than just a head of parliament; he’s also the symbol of our country in many ways," he added later. "So honoring our country by serving in a way that becomes a model for others is another element of this that I think people that aspire to the presidency really need to take seriously."

Bush made his comments as the featured guest on "Calling Alabama," a conference call series hosted by the Alabama Republican Party. The conference call was meant to be a private exchange, but The Washington Post obtained dial-in information and listened to it.

At the start, party chairwoman Terry Lathan reminded Bush that he was speaking with Republicans living in "the reddest state in the country." She added later that most of the questions she received to ask Bush dealt with education reform, especially his advocacy for Common Core standards, and immigration reform.

But Bush stood by his support for Common Core standards: "If Alabama wants to change those standards, I think they have every right to do it. I would just encourage Alabama to raise those standards even higher."

And he said that he believes President Obama's executive actions to change immigration laws will be eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. He reiterated that he backs "a path to earned legal status, not citizenship, but earned legal status. Where people get a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work, they don’t receive federal government assistance and they -- over extended period of time -- they earn legal status."

Bush said he welcomed the opportunity to explain his views on both subjects "because I find it interesting that people who share that view -- rather than stick with the view and try to persuade people about it -- in many cases have actually abandoned their views. I think the next president is going to have tougher times dealing with these issues than dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. If we're going to bend with the wind, then it'll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems."

That could be seen as a knock on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who have both distanced themselves from previous advocacy for bipartisan immigration reform.

As he travels the country ahead of a formal campaign launch, Bush frequently bemoans "talk" and "yap" in Washington as a way to contrast his gubernatorial record against the scant legislative accomplishments of Congress in recent years -- and thus the GOP lawmakers running for president. He did it again on Wednesday night.

"I want to win. I want our party to win. I want the next president to be a Republican, to be a conservative," he said. "We can talk about things until the sun goes down, we can yap about things all the time, we can say how bad things are, but we need to win. And that means winning in places where Republicans haven’t won recently."

His comments came on the same day that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal traded barbs over what the senator has said about the Islamic State terror group. And it came as former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, a vocal critic of Bush's potential candidacy, launched his second presidential bid in Pittsburgh. Former New York Republican governor George Pataki is also set to join the race this week, as is former Maryland Democratic governor Martin O'Malley.

Bush told Alabama Republicans that he is nearing a final decision on whether to run for president. Despite that talk, he continues to build out his political operation and is keeping a busy travel schedule, including an upcoming trip to Germany, Poland and Estonia.