When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) walked up to a podium in Detroit on Wednesday, he delivered an economic message not commonly associated with the GOP.
In his first major public speech since announcing his interest in running for president in 2016, Bush embraced the issue of income inequality.
"The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time," he said, according to The New York Times. "More Americans are stuck at their income levels than ever before."
Bush, who is arguably the front-runner for the GOP nomination, isn't alone in focusing on the issue. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), a budget hawk and 2012 vice presidential candidate, declared last weekend that President Barack Obama's policies "have exacerbated inequality." Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee, also directly tackled income inequality while he was still exploring a 2016 campaign last January.
"Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before," Romney said in a speech to Republicans, according to The Times.
Romney's messaging was drastically different than the 2012 race, when he reportedly accused politicians talking about income inequality of promoting "class warfare" and taking "a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach." Even more starkly, Romney once infamously dismissed 47% of Americans as dependent on handouts and thus attached to the Democratic Party. On Jan. 30, Romney revealed he decided not to pursue a 2016 presidential campaign.
Even some of the more conservative contenders for the White House are talking about income inequality. Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) reacted to last month's State of the Union speech by declaring, "Income inequality has worsened under this administration." And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a tea party-aligned stalwart, blasted those who have "gotten fat and happy" in the last six years under Obama.
"We're facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1% are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1% earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928," Cruz told Fox News after the president's speech.
Liberals have clearly been amused by the Republican messaging shift. As many Democrats noted, income inequality used to be an issue primarily championed by the most populist wing of their party.
Staunchly progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) discussed Romney's apparent shift in recent a Politico interview.
"I find it disingenuous, and I think a lot of other people will too," de Blasio said. "This is a guy who was pretty brazenly uninterested in addressing income inequality in 2012."
Even Obama himself mocked Romney over his income inequality comments.
"We've got a former presidential candidate on the other side who suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty," Obama quipped last week, according to The Wall Street Journal. "That's great."
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