Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush On 2016, “A Third Bush War,” And Big Government Conservatism
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush joined me today to talk all things 2106:
HH: I’m pleased to begin this hour with former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, welcome back to the program, great to talk to you.
JB: How are you doing, Hugh? Everything’s good in Miami.
HH: Terrific. Well, we’ve got LeBron, so it can’t be that great in Miami.
JB: Oh, that leaves a mark, my friend.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, when it comes down to politics, if it turns out that you and Senator Rubio run against each other in Florida, would either of you want Urban Meyer’s endorsement?
HH: You would?
JB: I’d take him.
HH: Okay, just checking. That helps in Ohio, but I thought he left Florida with a little bit of a bad…
JB: It could be a two-fer, and the last time I checked, Florid and Ohio are like the two most important states.
HH: Okay, we’ll give you Urban Meyer, then. Governor, I watched with interest your speech in Chicago last week, and I’d like to play the key sort of 45 seconds of it for the audience. Here’s what you said at the Chicago Foreign Affairs Council.
JB: I’ve been fortunate to have a father and a brother who helped shape America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office. I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs. In fact, this is a great, fascinating thing in the political world for some reason, sometimes in contrast to theirs. Look, just for the record, one more time, I love my brother. I love my dad. I actually love my mother as well. I hope that’s okay. And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I’m my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences. Each president learns from those who came before – their principles, their adjustments. One thing we know is this. Every president inherits a changing world and changing circumstances.
HH: Now Governor Bush, what interests me about that is when you look forward into a possible third Bush presidency, not how the Iraq wars went or your opinion of your father’s order to invade Iraq, or your brother’s order to invade Iraq, but whether or not you’d be overly cautious about using force for fear of having a “third Bush war” occur?
JB: No, that’s an interesting question, and I’m glad you asked it. It wouldn’t, if I was, if I decide to go forward with a race and I’m fortunate enough to go through that whole process, and God willing, win, then I would have a duty to protect the United States. And there are circumstances where a commander-in-chief, the president of the United States has to make tough decisions. And history’s full of examples of that. I wouldn’t be conflicted by any legacy issues of my family. I actually, Hugh, am quite comfortable being George Bush’s son and George Bush’s brother. It’s something that gives me a lot of comfort on a personal level, and it certainly wouldn’t compel me to act one way or the other based on the strategies that we would be implementing and the conditions that our country would be facing.
HH: So a conservative who is a strong Defense conservative would not have to be hesitant to worry that you would be reluctant to use force anywhere, but especially in the Muslim world?
JB: I don’t think there’s anything that relates to what my dad did or what my brother did that would compel me to think one way or the other. I think that history’s a good guide for our country. And the simple fact is you start with the premise that America’s role in the world is a force for good, not for bad things to happen, you’ll have, lessen the likelihood of having to use military force around the world. America’s foreign policy is more successful when we’re clear about who we’re supporting in terms of our allies, and that our enemies fear us a little bit rather than take advantage of us, to create insecurity that then compels the world and the United States to react. I think a better solution is to have a forceful foreign policy where we’re supportive of our friends, where there’s no light between our closest allies, like Israel, like our neighborhood, like NATO. These are the alliances that have kept us safe. And the more that people are assured of that, the more likely it is that we’ll live in a peaceful world.
HH: In the Chicago Q&A portion, Governor, you also said of the Islamic State that we need to “restrain them, tighten the noose”. How would you go about doing that?
JB: Well, this is one of the reasons why having an engaged foreign policy is important. We’ve now managed to lessen our relationship with Egypt, for example. And it wasn’t that long ago that President Obama was calling Erdogan his favorite Muslim leader. And the net result now is that we have less of a relationship with either one of those countries. The Persian Gulf countries also have, are very fearful of the commitment the United States has to the region. And so having to build the coalition that would be appropriate to tighten the noose around ISIS is much harder now because we disengaged. The first step is to rebuild confidence with countries that could play a key role in this. The United States can’t do this alone. No one believes that. But without American leadership, nothing’s going to happen.
HH: Now the Islamic State appears to be metastasizing. If you enter into your watch in January of 2017, if you run and you’re elected, would you hesitate to use ground forces in substantial numbers in Iraq a third time?
JB: Well, had we kept the 10,000 troop commitment that was there for the President to negotiate and to agree with, we probably wouldn’t have ISIS right now. So to reflect on this, there is a, by putting all these preconditions, the President has really weakened our hand. And so look, I can’t speculate about the size of a commitment going forward. It may not be necessary. But it looks to me like the President is currently building up some military support in Iraq. It may actually get back to the level that had he kept the 10,000 there, we wouldn’t have had the mess to begin with.
HH: One more quote from the Chicago speech. You said having a military equal to any threat is not only essential to the commander-in-chief, it makes it less likely we’ll have to put our men and women in harm’s way. I believe weakness invites war, and strength encourages peace. Now I know you know as a matter of percentage of GDP our Defense spending is plummeting, specifically with the Navy and our nuclear forces. Is there some level that Jeb Bush believe it just can’t go below or we’ve crossed a red line on national security?
JB: I have to say two things on that. I think we’re, by 2020, we’ll get to a GDP Defense spending, as a percentage of GDP, at two and a half percent. That’s too low. That’s way lower than our historical average, and the rest of the world won’t respond to that. Our enemies or potential enemies will see this as a sign of weakness, and it’ll embolden them. And our friends, if we’re trying to encourage Europe to step up once again and defend their own, the EU through NATO, they’re not going to respond to a country that is making cuts that are even deeper. So that’s one point. The second point I’d say is it’s time for a pretty thorough strategic review of the kind of military that we need. It’s not just the gross spending as a percentage of GDP. That’s an important barometer, certainly, but there are other things that we need to look at, which is the, should we be focusing more on these larger, new asymmetric threats? Should we continue to build and enhance our capabilities as it relates to cyber warfare? What is the role of the NSA? How do we deal with counterintelligence? The broader question not just of military spending but of our national defense and defense of the homeland, I think, hast to be incorporated into this, because the world’s changed. I mean, we’re, the Soviets aren’t going to launch a tank attack across Eastern Germany into Germany.
HH: Well, we never used to think that, right?
JB: Well, exactly. It’s starting to change again. But the simple fact is that we’re living in a new world, and we haven’t had the kind of review, I think, that would be appropriate given the new challenges we face.
HH: Now I know you are familiar with naval issues not just because of your brother and your father, but you had Naval Station Mayport when you were governor, so you know about carriers. We’re down to ten. We’re supposed to have eleven. Secretary Hagel at one point said maybe we’ll go to eight. You know, our ships are supposed to be at 313. We’ve got 284, and that’s using the Navy’s new math. We’re really at something like 274. What do you make of our naval situation?
JB: I think that if you look at the role of the United States Navy in the world over, since the post-World War II era, you could make a pretty compelling case that hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty around the world because of the United States Navy. It’s kept the sea lanes open. It’s created a much more peaceful world that has allowed prosperity, for us to take advantage of prosperity in the world as well. And the cutbacks are, you know, I don’t know what the minimum number is, but the cutbacks are really severe. The sequester process has disproportionately hit the military. And so I think a thorough review of this, and recognizing that this is the place where we dominate, we dominate the seas, and it’s created an advantage that we shouldn’t lose.
HH: There are currently 18 Ohio-class strategic submarines. 14 of those have the Trident four carry nuclear cruise missiles. But they’re supposed to run out in 2029. They’re supposed to be retired. We haven’t even got a replacement hull in the water, yet, Governor Bush. Do you think we need that leg of the triad? And do we need it reupped and rearmed?
JB: Hugh, you’re, to be honest with you, I can’t give you an informed answer to that. But the fact that we’re not planning over the long haul about the role of the United States Navy and the real military in our national defense is really troubling, and not just in that issue, but across the board. This is the first priority of Washington, D.C., and it’s certainly not that way right now.
HH: Yeah, let me go back to the broader war on terror then. Have you ever had a chance to read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
HH: I think it’s the most important book on the war. But in any event, where do you see the source of the radicalism, the Islamist violence? What’s the root source? We heard Marie Harf say it’s joblessness, in part. What does Jeb Bush think?
JB: I just cannot believe that a spokesman for our government would say that. It is deeply disturbing to me that this is the language that’s used in the Obama administration, that it’s an isolated act if it was in Paris, or that joblessness creates despair that creates this radical behavior, that it’s a law enforcement incident and all these things. It really makes it harder to garner the necessary support in our own country and around the world for what this is. This is radical Islam. And these are barbarians. And they want to destroy Western civilization. I don’t think that’s a gross exaggeration, and that’s what, if you believe, if you start with that premise, you have a completely different strategy.
HH: True. What do you think is the tap root of the recent radicalization, though?
JB: Well, it’s easier, these new asymmetric threats are easier as you see a breakdown of the old order. These voids are filled. It’s easier now through, because of the internet to garner support from places that you could never imagine just 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. So I think there’s a belief that in the case of certainly not in the United States as much, but in the case of Europe, there’s a lot of the Muslim populations are isolated and marginalized, and can easily be radicalized, because this multiculturalism kind of approach to immigration, you get second-class status. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons for it, but the simple fact is this is the present danger. I would say if you had to take the risk of going forward in the near future in nuclear proliferation by rogue states, and these asymmetric threats of terror are the two big ones that we have to deal with.
HH: And let me wrap up with a couple of thoughts and questions about politics. President Barry Corey at Biola, President Bill Armstrong at Colorado Christian University, both have said to me that if you and Marco Rubio wanted to have a forum on their campus that began and ended, and every word in between and every question asked was in Spanish, they would jump at that. That would be a culture-changing event. Has anyone proposed that to you, Jeb Bush?
JB: That would be fun. I love being with my friend, Marco. And I don’t know if I could keep up with him in his perfect Spanish, but my close enough Spanish, I think we would have a fun time doing that.
HH: And you’d be comfortable in that language, right?
JB: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ve given speeches in Spanish. I don’t, I think, look, I don’t think we need to, I think you can be successful in the political realm by speaking one language. You shouldn’t be required to speak two. But it’s a help. It was a help when I was governor to serve people. I’ll never forget being able to translate the hurricane briefings that we did. We’d do it in English, and then I’d give a short-form version in Spanish.
JB: And it was well-regarded.
HH: Oh, it’s a help, politically. Mitt Romney said getting outspent on Spanish language seven to one was a disaster in 2012, and I was agree with him on that.
JB: It was, and it was how they spent it early to demonize a really good man that, and actually, I’ve seen a lot of the research on this. The Obama campaign turned Obamacare into a positive in the Hispanic community, and there was no response back. And then Mitt got demonized, and started late because of all the circumstances of having to run a primary, I guess.
HH: Well then, let’s look at, assume you are the nominee and you’d be up against former Secretary of State Clinton. That would be a 69 year old Clinton versus a 64 year old Bush. Now…
JB: Hey, hey, buddy, hang on now. Sorry, I’m 62. 62.
HH: (laughing) 62, sorry. Is that a little bit like Magic versus Bird playing one on one now? I mean, isn’t that…
JB: I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m an idea-driven guy. I think campaigns need to be about the future, and they need to be hopeful and optimistic. And they need to embrace technologies in ways that allows you to have two-way communication with potential voters. And a campaign that’s going to be successful for conservatives is to campaign outside of one’s comfort zone.
HH: And then the last question, Governor, what’s the message to the newly-emerging democracies, that the world’s oldest democracy keeps recycling Bushes and Clintons and Clintons and Bushes? Does it send the wrong message to the Nigerias and the Indias of the world about dynasty?
JB: If the campaigns are about, if the campaign’s about a dynasty, I’m not sure that that’s’ going to work. If it’s about how you advance ideas that will help people rise up, then it will be an inspiration for others. And that’s what we need to do. We need to be talking about the future by fixing a few really big, complicated things, to allow the middle to rise, and for people stuck at the bottom to rise up as well. And we can do it. That’s the good news, is the inspiration of America is going to be when we start growing at 4% per year rather than 2% per year. We will inspire the world to emulate us.
HH: Governor Jeb Bush, thanks for your time. I appreciate, looking forward to seeing you with Sean Hannity at CPAC on Friday. Be well.
JB: Thank you. It’ll be a blast. Take care.
End of interview.