Bush's speech also offered a glimpse into a likely campaign push to broaden the GOP's reach and to introduce his policy goals—not just his famous surname—to a new generation of voters.
"Let's go where our ideas can matter most," he said. "Where the failures of liberal government are most obvious. Let's deliver real conservative success. And you know what will happen? We'll create a whole lot of new conservatives."
The location of his speech, in a city struggling for a revival after declaring bankruptcy in 2013, was deliberate, Bush aides told CNN. The city's struggle to regain its economic footing plays smoothly into Bush's message of prosperity, they said.
"The recovery has been everywhere but in the family paychecks," Bush said. "The American Dream has become a mirage for far too many. So the central question we face here in Detroit and across America is this: Can we restore that dream—that moral promise—that each generation can do better?"
In the spirit of a "reformed" conservatism, Bush said a crucial step in being able to succeed in America is the kind of household someone grew up in—but didn't say that parents needed to be from a traditional marriage.
"Social scientists across the ideological spectrum agree on this: If you want to predict whether someone will graduate from school, go to college, and move forward in life, just find out one thing: "Were they raised in a loving household by two parents? If you didn't, you can overcome it, but it's very hard. If you did, you have a built-in advantage in life," he said.
Unlike his 2016 rivals, most notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who stirred up controversy Monday when he said the government should take a balanced view on vaccinations, Bush had an unequivocal view on whether parents should vaccinate their kids.
"Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated," he said, lamenting how quotes can be "misinterpreted" by the media. "Parents have a responsibility to make sure their children are protected—over and out."
For such a strong message, Bush's speech delivery came across as lackluster and rushed. But his off-the-cuff answers during the Q&A after the remarks revealed a casual, even funny, personality and a comfortable grasp of policy. Defending his dad—George H.W. Bush, the 41st president—he jokingly threatened that if anyone didn't think he was the greatest man alive, "we will go outside, unless you are 6'5 and 250 and much younger than me. Then we will negotiate."
Revitalizing the middle class has become an ever-popular pledge in the early stages of the 2016 race. Bush's Florida colleague and likely 2016 contender, Sen. Marco Rubio, released a book last month, American Dreams, centered on "restoring economic opportunity for everyone," and Christie has also called for a focus on "middle-income earners."