ORLANDO, Fla. — George P. Bush may not be ready to follow his father, grandfather and uncle into politics just yet, but he is trying to help the Republican Party regain a conservative message, which on Saturday included criticism of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
Bush, the son of former Gov. Jeb Bush, grandson of former President George H. Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, addressed a national conference of young Republicans and told them there is a rift in the party between fiscal conservatives and what he calls "D light" -- Republicans who are trying to appeal to the political middle.
"There's some in our party that want to assume that government is the answer to all of our problems," Bush said. "I'm not going to name any names."
But he said in Florida, there were Republicans who have endorsed the recent $787 billion stimulus plan that Democratic President Barack Obama signed into law. Bush was referring to Republican Crist, who lobbied hard for the bill, including an appearance with Obama in Fort Myers.
"You know who I'm talking about," Bush said, as the crowd attending the Young Republican National Federation murmured and laughed a little tensely. "That's problematic. We as conservatives have to ultimately balance the federal government's checkbook."
Afterward, Bush said he doesn't think Crist is a fiscal conservative and that he may have hurt himself with some Republicans for his appearance with Obama and his support of the stimulus plan.
"That will be on his track record and people are going to remember that," Bush said, adding that Crist is running the risk of falling in the "D light" category of the party.
"There are numerous actions that I have seen legislatively that do not speak to a strong conservative, it speaks more to a moderate," Bush said. "That's fine, but when you run as a conservative and then you lead as a moderate, that's one thing that any leader would have to reconcile."
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer defended Crist, saying the governor avoided partisan fighting over the stimulus bill and instead pushed for what he thought was best for Florida.
"He's focused on the people and bypassing the political rhetoric," Greer said. "Charlie Crist gets up every day and sees what's going on from a very realistic, practical approach and then he starts solving the problems through a very realistic, practical approach."
In addition to strengthening the party message, Bush told the group Republicans also need to do a better job of using new technology to reach voters, particularly younger voters. He also urged the young Republicans to seek office.
And while many in the crowd would like Bush to become the next generation in his family to seek political office, he told The Associated Press before the meeting he has no immediate plans to do so.
"I want to obtain success in my own right. I want people to look at a record of accomplishment that I've put together in my own right and not based on family name," Bush said. "I haven't achieved my personal goals. Definitely down the road I'd love to reassess but as of right now it's not for me."
Bush, 32, lives in Texas and works as a partner in a real estate investment firm. He married in August 2004 and joined the Navy reserves two years ago. He said he would like to start a family. In the meantime, he'll continue to raise money for candidates and help promote the party message, but he said family and a career are his main focus.
Brian Graham, president of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans, said he hopes Bush will enter politics at some point. While his uncle left office to low approval ratings, Graham said the Bush name is still popular in Florida and Texas.
"A lot of people say that maybe he couldn't run because of his name, I don't think that's the case," Graham said. "He's smart, he's good looking, he's charismatic. I don't see anything that would stop him. It's a great package."