Bush sounded as if he knows what he would talk about if he ran — from education reform and entitlement reform to an overhaul of the tax system and a paring of the regulatory apparatus to what he called an economically driven reform of immigration laws — and what he thinks about them.

Being prepared to lose the nomination in order to win the general election does not necessarily mean an in-your-face campaign designed to poke his conservative critics unnecessarily. Instead, presumably it means a willingness to stand his ground on issues where he believes he is closer to the views of the broader electorate without, as he put it, violating his conservative principles.

Bush for a long time has been prodding his party to put its stamp on the future rather than looking to its past. He was an early debunker of the wave of Reagan nostalgia that took hold during the 2008 presidential primaries — the notion that a return to Reaganism was the path to success in presidential elections. Bush argued that the party needed to adapt its conservative principles to a new time and a new America.