MACKINAC ISLAND, Michigan (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush reacted Friday to the latest controversy roiling the GOP race by identifying President Barack Obama as "an American" and "Christian," and calling for a return to civility in national politics.
Bush was alluding to an episode Thursday in which rival Donald Trump declined to correct a questioner who called Obama "Muslim" and "not even an American."
Bush told roughly 2,000 Michigan Republican activists, "I will commit to you that I will never violate my conservative principles. But I will assume that someone that doesn't agree with me isn't a bad person.
"We need to begin to get back to that degree of civility before it's too late in this country," Bush said.
Bush, the lead speaker at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, said a Republican could carry Michigan in 2016 — for the first time since his father, George H.W. Bush, did it in 1988 — "if we run with heart."
He said Republicans can "expand the map" of electoral swing states to include Michigan, where metropolitan Detroit has been a Democratic roadblock for the GOP, if "we run a campaign with our arms open, with a hopeful, optimistic message" and "don't run a campaign looking down at people."
The Michigan conference comes two days after 11 leading GOP candidates participated in a marathon televised debate in California. It resumes Saturday with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.