"We need to elect candidates who have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making points," Bush told an audience at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum here. "Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we've lost our way."
He added, "I'm not being critical of my party, but campaigns themselves are reflective of this new America."
Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida and the son and brother of former presidents, returned to the bosom of the family's extensive political network to discuss his future and the country's. His town-hall-style conversation capped a three-day reunion celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Bush presidency, ensuring that much of the talk would center on whether there would be a third.
Few veteran courtiers of the nation's most prominent modern Republican dynasty left the gathering doubting that Bush was giving it serious consideration. Where a few months ago many close to the Bush family thought the second son was not planning to run, now many of the same people said he seemed more engaged in the possibility and making moves they interpreted as laying the groundwork.
"He sounds like a candidate to me," said Joe Hagin, who worked in the White House for both Presidents Bush. "People are standing back and saying the country is ready for somebody who's serious."
Andy Card, who likewise worked in both administrations, including as George W. Bush's chief of staff, said Republicans should draft Jeb. "If Jeb Bush doesn't run for president, shame on us," he said. "He is demonstrating the kind of leadership we desperately need both in our party and in our nation."
Whether the rest of the party agrees remains to be seen. Nowhere could Jeb Bush expect a more supportive crowd than here at the museum honoring his father on the campus of Texas A&M University. Among those most fervent about a run, according to former aides, is the elder George Bush, who sat in front of the auditorium as his son spoke on Sunday.
The skepticism within the party, however, was represented by the woman sitting next to him, Barbara Bush, the former first lady, who last year publicly suggested the country did not need another Bush in the White House. Last month, she tempered that comment by saying that Jeb would be the most qualified, a remark some saw as another sign of a possible run.
Even as the band seemed to be getting back together, some Republicans privately acknowledged that a repeat engagement faced plenty of hurdles, not least of which being the sense that the party might have moved beyond the Bushes. Some observers noted that for all the nostalgia and residual support for Jeb Bush among his father's allies, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to generate more enthusiastic applause earlier in the weekend.