Former Florida Jeb Bush joined me for my 150th interview with a would-be GOP nominee since the first debate this past August:
HH: I’m flying to Manchester, New Hampshire on Friday. I’ll be on with Jake on Friday, Meet The Press on Sunday. Everybody is fixed on New Hampshire, and of course, that’s where we find former Florida Governor Jeb Bush today. Governor Bush, welcome back, it is always a pleasure to speak with you.
JB: It’s an honor to be with you. It’s 39 degrees here in Manchester, and it hasn’t stopped raining the entire day. But when you get here, it’ll be beautiful and sunshiney, I’m sure.
HH: I was watching you with Jake Tapper a little bit earlier. It did look a little bit cold. But I have some trepidation. The last time I spoke with you, Halperin and Heilemann were in the room with you, and Tim Miller was briefing you about me. And I’m afraid I’m being filmed even as I’m talking to you. So assure they’re not in the room or something, that…
JB: No, no, no, you’re fine. You’re safe here.
HH: It’s a safe zone.
JB: The NSA is not checking out any of this, either.
HH: Okay, good.
JB: So the metadata program wasn’t reauthorized, the means by which is should have been. We’re all safe.
HH: Let me begin by asking you about Hillary Clinton, because tonight on FX, a series about O.J. Simpson gets underway. Tomorrow, on Showtime, a series about Madoff gets underway. O.J. was guilty, but he was never convicted. Madoff was guilty. He was convicted. Do you think Hillary Clinton is guilty of violating our national security laws? And if so, do you think she’ll ever face conviction for it?
JB: I don’t know. I don’t want to pass judgment on what the legal aspects of this are, but clearly, she has not told the truth. Clearly, she did something that jeopardized the national security by using a private server and allowing for top secret information to go over it. And she’s covered it up. It required a subpoena from the FBI to be able to get this information. And she’s not told the truth across the board, so whether it’s, you know, a criminal offense of not, I’m not just not qualified to answer that. But this is a leading indicator that she can’t be trusted as president of the United States, because it’s not just this issue. It’s across, her entire public life has been of cover ups and of pursuing her ambitions at the expense of the things that she should have been doing.
HH: In the town halls, and I know you’ve been holding a lot of them, does the seriousness of what she did resonate with the audience? Do they understand? It’s not, I’m not a partisan here. I just am a former read-in national security guy who did this stuff at Justice and the White House, and your brother, and you know that the bad guys watch everything.
JB: Of course, they do. And as people have said that know about the cybersecurity issues and the attacks that are constant, whether they’re from the Chinese or the Russians or rogue nations, this is a gross violation of our national security. And it was done to pursue her personal ambition. That’s the part that is the common refrain, the common denominator of many of these actions that Mrs. Clinton takes. And it does resonate. People get it. They get it. They get it when she says that, you know, when she lied to the families of the heroes in Benghazi that tried to save the lives of the Ambassador. They, this is just the consistent kind of narrative that we see with her.
HH: Now when your brother was president, people could rely on the Department of Justice to pursue whatever they wanted to pursue regardless of where the chips fell. That’s why Patrick Fitzgerald went after Scooter Libby. And there’s quite a lot written about that. Do you have confidence in this Department of Justice pursuing the law wherever it ought to lead?
JB: Well, I have confidence that, no, I don’t. But I have confidence that the actual report of the FBI will be made public. I have confidence, because it’ll either be leaked, or it’ll be made public And I, look, you think about someone who I admire greatly, David Petraeus paid a heavy price for leaking confidential, you know, security and top secret information. And he had to resign in disgrace and pay a price, legally. What Hillary Clinton has done as Secretary of State is equal to that or far worse, depending on the magnitude of the amount of information that went over her private server.
HH: I do not know Director of the FBI Comey except by reputation, which is very, very good. Do you, Jeb Bush?
JB: I don’t know him, but everybody that I’ve talked to that has worked with him speaks very highly of him, and that he is a person of integrity. And I think that’s a good sign. This is, we’ll see what happens, but people do speak very highly of his service.
HH: People, and this leads me to judges, people need us to have good judges appointed. Some of the judges that have been appointed are decision driven, not law driven. And I personally am one of the guys that admires the Chief Justice a great deal. I teach the Sebelius case as perhaps a case of genius. I know my friend, Mark Levin, disagrees with me on that. But what is your approach going to be to judges, because on the one hand, maybe the biggest failing of your father was Souter over Edith Jones.
HH: On the other hand, one of the biggest successes of your brother was Sam Alito, and in my opinion, Chief Justice Roberts.
JB: Yeah, Hugh, I think that in the environment we’re in now, you need to appoint someone that has a clear, consistent record. You can’t go to the easy out, which has been let’s appoint someone that doesn’t have a clear, long record that shows consistency, because if they have a record, they’ll be attacked. You can assume that they will be attacked, in the world we’re in now, and you’ve got to fight for your judges. And they should be respectful of the Constitution. They should not try to legislate from the bench in the terminology that, you know, and you know what that means. There should be a real focus on having someone that has a clear record, because we just can’t take a chance. We have to have someone that has been consistent. When I was governor, I would ask the following question. I would say give me an example of a ruling that you made or a ruling that the Supreme Court made, that you agreed with, but you personally disagreed with, and trying to get to the point that what they can’t do is impose their political beliefs on a particular subject. They have to strictly interpret the law on whether it’s Constitutional. And that is what we need. We need someone, we need a group of lawyers, or judges, that do this, not just the Supreme Court, but the next president is going to have the opportunity to appoint at least three. So this is going to be an important part of the election, and it’s certainly an important duty and responsibility of the next president.
HH: Now 15 years ago during the drama that was Bush V. Gore, the Florida Supreme Court, and I do not believe you had made a single appointment to that court at that point, was just a bunch of pirate. I used to play Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me. They would come out with the wildest stuff. So you must have had a chance to appoint some people afterwards.
JB: I did.
HH: Who did you appoint there?
JB: I appointed Ken Bell and Raul Cantero, both of whom were regarded as solid conservative judges. And I appointed two other people to the appellate court level that ended up being appointed by my successor that, before he turned into a liberal.
HH: (laughing) I’m not sure that’s what we call him, actually, but…
JB: Whatever he is.
HH: Whatever he is.
JB: Charlie Crist, Charlie Crist made two really good appointments before he started wandering away from the conservative ideology. And those were my appointees as well. These were people that were highly-regarded in terms of their intellectual capability. They were prudent and humble as it relates to the role of the judiciary. I think the judiciary is the humble branch of government. It needs to be independent. It needs to be consistent, but it should be humble. It cannot try to take over the responsibilities of the executive or the legislature.
HH: Now some of the people that you are running against, Ted Cruz for one, defend the filibuster in the United States Senate. I have grown to loathe it, especially with regards to judicial appointments. I think it’s extra-Constitutional, and I want it gone. What is your opinion of the filibuster at least with regards to judicial appointment, both at the appellate level and the Supreme Court level?
JB: I think there should be some reforms, to be honest with you, but I don’t know the specifics of how it would work. I just, I mean, I thought filibuster related to getting on the floor of the Senate and speaking for as long as you can to basically press the pause button so that people could reflect and make sure that they’re making the right decision, that it was a point of deliberation rather than a point of just stopping everything in its tracks. And somehow, we need to get back to that, where the government begins to work again, because it doesn’t work, and that’s why people are angry. People will, you know, there’s always in the campaigns over-promise, over-commitment about what the Congress can do if we get control. And then what people see if nothing happens. And so some reform that allows for the democracy to work, as you said, this is not part of the Constitution. These are rules. And hopefully, there’ll be some common sense applied.
HH: Why do you think Ted Cruz won Iowa?
JB: He worked really hard, for sure, and to his credit. I mean, I admire the fact that he went to all 99 counties. He had a game plan. He outworked everybody, and he won. It doesn’t necessarily translate beyond that, but to his credit, he won. And the other interesting thing is Donald Trump lost. He’s a loser.
HH: And we’ll talk about that after the break. Stay right with me. I’m coming right back with former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida.
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HH: Governor Bush, when we went to break, you said that the other thing that mattered, that Donald Trump lost. And Donald Trump will join me on the program tomorrow. I still think he’s going to win New Hampshire because of the independent vote, and because of his appeal there. But what did that loss, in your opinion, do to his air of invincibility?
JB: Well, it proves that he wasn’t invincible, for starters, and secondly, the whole case that he makes is I’m great because I’m winning. I’m great, because the polls show me winning. He hasn’t offered a compelling conservative alternative to the path we’re on. He’s not shown the seriousness that you need to show as commander-in-chief, to show support for the troops, and to have a foreign policy that will keep us safe. And all of this craziness in the post-Iowa discussions about, you know, just being unhinged on the process doesn’t show a seriousness, and I think it matters. I think if we were running for the United States Senate, and be a back bencher, it doesn’t matter. But if you’re running for the presidency, you’d better show a steadiness as a candidate, because you actually might be president. And I think it matters that he lost in that regard and now is trying to excuse it away.
HH: Now the controversy surrounding Dr. Carson, Senator Cruz and Donald Trump is complicated. I did not see the original CNN report. I was busy tweeting my own assessment of what was going on. But here’s what Ted Cruz had to say today about that controversy.
Reporter: Senator, this line of attack, though, he is calling you a cheater.
Reporter: He’s calling you a fraud. Does this cross the line for you?
TC: Listen, Donald’s insults get more and more hysterical the more and more upset he gets. And that’s fine. He can do that. I’m not going to respond in kind. I’m going to…
Reporter: Do you think they’re funny?
TC: I think they’re very funny. I think Donald, I wake up every day and laugh at the latest thing Donald has tweeted, because he’s losing it. look, we need a commander-in-chief, not a twitterer-in-chief. We need someone with judgment and the temperament to keep this country safe. I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable with someone who behaves this way having his finger on the button. I mean, we’re liable to wake up one morning, and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark. That’s not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe. We need a president who will have the back of our fighting men and women, who will have their back, and will be clear-eyed and focused on our enemies, on radical Islamic terrorists, and on defeating ISIS. That’s what I will do every day, and the American people are not interested in this circus sideshow of insults. You know, my girls are five and seven. And I’ve got to tell you, Caroline and Catherine, are better behaved than a presidential candidate who responds by insulting everyone everyday…
HH: So Governor Bush, I’m back on the stage with you guys on the 25th of February.
HH: And March 10th, and I think we’re going to bolt the podiums down. I honestly do think this could get wild. What did you make of that?
JB: Well, he’s, I’m glad he’s joined the fray, because I’ve been the only candidate that has confronted Trump and his lack of seriousness. And everybody else has been in the witness protection program. But now, it seems that Senator Cruz has joined the fray, and what he said is true, that in these dangerous times, we need someone with a steady hand, someone that has a proven record of leadership. And I believe I’m that guy. I mean, look, Ted had a statement, he was, just look at the serious situation. When he had a chance to show that he was, that the United States needed to play a role, he did not, he didn’t act. He opposed the efforts to enforce the red line. And then, now he’s talking about carpet bombing ISIS. Well, here’s the good news. We don’t need to carpet bomb ISIS. We have, now we have weapons that actually are a lot more surgical than a carpet bomb. And that’s the seriousness that I’m talking about. We need to have someone that actually has built out a strategy to destroy ISIS, and I did that at the Reagan Library as you know, Hugh, and I’m sticking with this, because ultimately, people are going to want to know who’s going to sit behind the big desk and keep me safe. Who’s going to restore national security and economic security for this country? And can I rely on them, not just to hear them talk, but have they done something in their lives that gives me confidence that they can do the job?
JB: Now the very, very first interview I did with you a year ago, I asked you about aircraft carriers and submarines. It’s been a long time since then. And any specificity? We’re down to 272. I think we’ve lost six ships in a year. Any specificity, yet, on a Naval rebuilding program from Jeb Bush?
JB: I will take the best advice from the military commanders. Our details on rebuilding the military are the most comprehensive, most specific of any campaign. But I’m not committed to a 400, you know, ship Navy. I think it’s important to do this the right way. What we have proposed will require additional money. You can reform the Pentagon, and we definitely need to do it as it relates to procurement. It is top heavy. There are too many bureaucrats and staff members inside these command structures. There’s more civilians than uniformed men and women inside the Department of Defense. There’s a lot of reform that’s necessary, but we’re going to need to spend more money, including rebuilding the Navy.
HH: Now Governor Bush, when it comes to the issue I thought would dominate the primaries, it’s gone away. That’s Common Core. I don’t know if it’s back in New Hampshire or not, but what is your position now when people approach you, because it still burns at the grassroots.
HH: So what does Jeb Bush say about it?
JB: So I haven’t changed my views on this. I believe that standards ought to be a state decision. The federal government should have no role in the creation of standards, content, curriculum. And Hugh, my record as governor of the state of Florida is unmatched by anybody on that stage in terms of reforming the education system. And it goes beyond standards to accountability, to school choice, to ending social promotion in 3rd grade, to dramatically transforming the education system. And we’ve had the greatest gains in learning. It’s a positive for me, not a negative, because I’ve done it. And people in Florida know that it was hard to take, to create the first, second and third statewide voucher programs, but we did it. And we’ve seen learning gains that are unmatched in the country. So standards should be locally administered, state driven. The federal government should play no role at all. The only thing I’d say the federal government should do is when a state has a courageous governor that wants to create an education savings account, for example, as Nevada just did, then the resources from the federal government ought to be running with that reform. And right now, those are, that is expressly prohibited. And we need to change that.
HH: And one more non-political question before we talk about the map. The President of the United States today went to a mosque. He gave a very good speech. It was a superb speech, actually, one that argued for religious tolerance, reminded people of various persecutions of religious minorities in our history, reminded them of our Muslim allies around the world. You know, I don’t give him compliments very often, but he did a very good job today. Do you think he’s taken a page from your brother’s book on this?
JB: If it was a good speech, I’m happy, because I think it’s important for the president to lead in this regard. And my brother did it much earlier in his tenure than Barack Obama’s done it in the eighth year. And I’m not quite sure he avoided doing this, but it was appropriate to do it. And sometimes, you have to give someone credit for a job well done. I haven’t seen the speech, but it’s important. Look, when you have a candidate for president that says we’re going to ban all Muslims coming into the country, the implications of that are horrific as it relates to our national security. But it also sends a signal to the millions of peaceful Muslims that are as American as you and I. And I think it’s important for people to know that they have worth, that they have value, that we’re all, you know, we’re all American. And we should target our energies to defeat radical Islam and the radicalization of people. We need to be kept safe, but you can do that by being respectful of people of the Muslim faith as well.
HH: And he did do that today. I think when you have a chance to read the speech tonight, you’ll be pleased with that. Let me turn now to politics. As I see this, I see Donald winning in New Hampshire, but three cards other than that coming out, one of them being shuffled to a governor. And I don’t know whether it’s you or Kasich or Christie, but the other two, the other three people are in by virtue of the Iowa. What do you assess the New Hampshire impact? And are you preparing to go down to South Carolina like Sherman and march from one end to the other as long as it’s necessary?
JB: Oh, yeah. Look, we have the resources to compete, and I’ll be in South Carolina for sure. We have a phenomenal organization there. I’m proud that one of the leading national defense experts in this country, Lindsey Graham, is supporting me. He has a lot of goodwill built up in South Carolina. We have a great organization. We’ll be there. And I intend to do well here, too. The case I make is that I have a proven record, and it’s the most conservative record of the three governors that all have records as well. And it compares favorably to the Senators who are back benchers, basically, that don’t have a life experience that they can talk about. They talk really well, for sure. They’re eloquent and they’re gifted politicians, but they talk about what they’ll do. They don’t give people confidence that they can do it. And the story, the Jeb story is one of accomplishment. So I feel pretty good about it here in New Hampshire. They are discerning voters, and they really do reset the election. And my guess is that they’ll do that. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I feel pretty confident that the first delegates selected will be in New Hampshire, by the way, not Iowa, because that’s a caucus process. And while there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, this will reset the campaign.
HH: Now when you do the Christie-Kasich-Bush comparison, and for someone who walks into that ballot box saying governor, governor, governor, as we all thought they would do at the beginning of this, a year ago, everyone thought it was going to be a governor, what makes you the better governor lane choice than Kasich or Christie?
JB: Look, they’re good people, as I’ve said, and they’ve had to make tough decisions, which I admire. And I would much prefer a governor, because I know what that experience brings for our party’s nominee and to be president. I just think it’s important. But my record is one of conservative reform. No one comes close as it relates to education reform, anybody in the country, for that matter, as it relates to what we did in Florida. We led the nation in job growth seven out of eight years. When both Governor Christie and Governor Kasich had a chance to stop Obamacare’s Medicaid program, they embraced it. They accepted the expansion of Medicaid. Now it won’t have a big impact on the state impact, but it’s going to have a big impact on the debt. You know, the Medicaid programs grew by 18% last year. When I was a private citizen, I was asked by the speaker of the house who was losing some support for opposing Medicaid expansion to fly up to Tallahassee, which I did, and make a compelling case that the House needed to stand its ground and to win this, and they did. And Florida did not expand Medicaid, and partially, it’s because of the leadership I showed in convincing people that they shouldn’t back away from what their principles were.
HH: Last question, Governor Jeb Bush, thanks for the time. Will we see President George W. Bush in that South Carolina march to the sea?
JB: Yeah, well, I don’t know, and we may be starting from the sea marching to the north, but whatever way they’re marching, you’re going to see my brother. And I’m proud of that, and I love him, and he wants to help. And he will be a great addition to the campaign. He’s already been helpful, but this will be in a more public way.
HH: Governor Jeb Bush, thanks. I’ll see you in New Hampshire if not before. Don’t go anywhere, America.
JB: Thanks, Hugh.
End of interview.