NEW YORK (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan courted some of Wall Street's most powerful political benefactors on Monday, insisting that love, friendship and "traditional marriage" can combat poverty better than government programs.
The prospective Republican presidential contenders were featured guests at an award ceremony hosted by the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank led by high-profile Republican donor Paul Singer. Like others gathered in the midtown Manhattan ballroom Monday night, Singer already has begun sizing up the evolving 2016 field after helping to pump millions of dollars into the last presidential race.
Bush and Ryan offered a decidedly softer tone on the nation's problems than some of their more conservative Republican colleagues.
Having toured the country in recent months focusing on the nation's poor, Ryan declared that "the best way to turn from a vicious cycle of despair and learned hopelessness to a virtuous cycle of hope and flourishing is by embracing the attributes of friendship, accountability and love."
"That's how you fight poverty," Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee, told a crowd of roughly 750 dressed in tuxedos and gowns.
Bush, the son of one president and brother of another, called for more welcoming immigration policies, while offering his own poverty prescription: "A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create."
They were largely cheered by the donors who mainly represent the pragmatic wing of the Republican Party, a group that includes many Wall Street executives frustrated by Washington gridlock driven, in part, by the GOP's more ideological members.
With the loosening of campaign finance laws in recent years, such donors have emerged as major players in party politics on both sides.
"Many of ... Gov. Bush's achievements should be replicated across the country," Singer told the black-tie audience that raised $1.8 million for the Manhattan Institute during the evening event. He later described Ryan as "one of the most thoughtful and resolute members of Congress."
Neither man has declared his 2016 intentions, although a growing number of donors have encouraged Bush to run in the months since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's traffic scandal erupted. Ryan is popular among the donor class as well, although some are skeptical he will trade his increasing influence on Capitol Hill for a presidential bid.
Both men are stoking speculations about their futures, however.
Ryan already has visited early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire this year. On Tuesday, he was set to attend a fundraising reception hosted by Singer and Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a national finance chairman for Mitt Romney's last presidential bid.
Bush has intensified his political travel in recent months as well.
He is set to host a Florida fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad later in the month after recently headlining a private reception inside conservative mega-donor Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas airport hangar.
Other Republican leaders have noticed. Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Texas business leaders that he has "nudged" Bush to seek the White House.
"Jeb Bush is my friend. I think he'd make a great president. I've nudged him for some time," Boehner told the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.