Borg: Jeb Bush's roots run deep on Texas and Florida. He was born in Texas, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas with a degree in Latin American affairs. After a couple of years managing a US Bank branch in Venezuela he was back working on his father's presidential campaign, but he didn't come into politics himself until the mid-1980s after moving to Florida, first appointed Florida's Commerce Secretary, then running for Governor, losing the first election, but later serving two terms as Governor. Now seeking the republican presidential nomination, Governor Bush, welcome to Iowa Press.
Bush: Great to be with you.
Borg: And I didn't know until I was doing some research, I've always wondered what Jeb stands for and it's the initials of your name.
Bush: John Ellis Bush. I'm really pleased my parents got creative right in the moment of truth and they came up with my name when I was born. Jeb is a great name for all sorts of reasons, not many people have it, it's short, it easily sits on a bumper sticker pretty good, there's a lot of good reasons why I like it.
Borg: I'd like to introduce you to the two journalists across the table, Associated Press Political Writer Catherine Lucey and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Governor, this year it appears that voters are choosing folks like Trump and Carson and Rubio and Cruz who have very little, if any, political experience. Was this the wrong year for a two-term Governor to seek the presidency?
Bush: I don't think so. I think when we get closer to this that the decision will be made by voters really on the following things. Do you have ideas that will make my life better? Do you have the fortitude, the leadership skills to make it happen? You can have that leadership can be acquired in the private sector or through government. And do you care about me? Do you care about the condition that I'm in? And look, my life experience is 32 years in business, 8 years as a reformed-minded Governor. I think over time that that kind of skill set that I've acquired through my life experience will be helpful to me for sure.
Henderson: I've heard you say that you're campaigning with joy in your heart, you talk about being optimistic about the future. Voters seem to be angry among the republican electorate. Have you figured out what they want?
Bush: They're angry because we're on the wrong track. I mean, you look at the polling numbers and we are persistently as Americans believing we're on the wrong track, left and right, and people are frustrated and angry. And my case is, look, you can have someone appeal to your fears and your angst and nothing will happen or you can vote for someone and support someone who actually has a plan to fix the things that you're angry about.
Borg: That brings up a question. Are you angry enough?
Bush: I don't have to be angry. I have to understand why people are angry. Look, I believe we're in the greatest country on the face of the Earth. I'm not going to change who I am just because I have to -- I'm not going to be a faux candidate, I'm not going to fake people out. I believe if we fix a few big, complex things this is the most extraordinary time to be alive. And I'm not going to change that. But I do think it's important to understand why people are angry. You can connect with them on that level. But, look, politics has never been about -- you never win by saying end is near. Name a candidate in national office that won saying, the world is coming to an end, vote for me. At the end of the day you've really got to be, you've got to offer a compelling alternative to the path we're on.
Lucey: Talking about trying to connect with people though, your campaign and the super PAC supporting you has spent tens of millions of dollars at this point on television ads trying to boost your candidacy and so far you remain in low single digits in the polls. When does something need to change for you?
Bush: We've got 60 days for Iowa and the first four primary states in February. We're well organized. You know full well in Iowa it's a question of organization. In New Hampshire it's retail politics. In South Carolina a great organization matters. I'm making great progress in those states and we have the best campaign in Nevada. So, look, in October or November, even in December of the last two election cycles, the people that were winning in December weren't the ones that ended up winning. It's just the nature of the beast and there's no reason to rewrite history. People make up their minds late.
Lucey: Of course we're here in Iowa but you're putting more offices and staff in New Hampshire at the moment. Is Iowa a lost cause?
Bush: No it isn't. No it isn't. We have the best organization here in Iowa of any of the campaigns. I just spent, this is my third day in the state on this trip. We're making really good progress here.
Henderson: You said in Waterloo earlier this week that you might not have chosen to attend the Climate Change Conference in Paris. Why not when so many other world leaders were there?
Bush: Because I don't know what the plan is, I don't know what they're proposing. I worry about these international agreements that aren't enforceable where the United States is committed to do X, Y and Z and other countries there's no enforcement requirement. I worry about hollowing out our industrial core. I worry about working people have higher costs imposed on them by the elites. I worry about all that. So to validate a plan that I have no knowledge of I'm not necessarily prepared to do.
Lucey: But do you think the United States needs to reduce emissions?
Bush: We are, we've reduced emissions by 10% in the last decade not because of anything Barack Obama has done, it's because of the natural gas revolution that has taken place and because people are conserving and consuming less energy in general, all of which is great. But it has nothing to do with imposed solutions from up above.
Lucey: And is that enough?
Bush: 10% reduction? It's better than any other country in the industrialized world and it could continue on for sure. Look, the climate is changing. It is partially due to man, of course, but there's no -- the science is conclusive, that's always the terminology used about what the impacts of this are, that's not true. And I don't think -- if we're going to lose our way of life to deal with something that may have an impact 50 years from now I just reject out of hand.
Henderson: On a related issue, this week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its decision on the Renewable Fuel Standard. Was that the right decision?
Bush: I think they should be a lot more concise and clear and give farmers and ethanol producers greater certainty about what the market is going to look like over the next three or four years. So the 17 proposal for ethanol wasn't, it's still a work in progress. And people have to plan for this. So put aside the actual numbers that they have proposed, which were relatively close to the statutory amount below, which was disappointing for farmers here. It's the lack of certainty that I think EPA gets a failing grade on.
Borg: Take you back to Paris for just a moment. What happened there a couple of weeks ago has implications and actions now in Syria and the Middle East.
Borg: Would you be doing more than just putting Special Forces, increased numbers of Special Forces into the Middle East?
Bush: I would. I would. I think we need a complete strategy. If I'm President of the United States the first thing I would do is ask the military for options, not tell them what constraints would be imposed on them, but options to destroy ISIS and to bring about regime change as it relates to Assad. And that would require I think a no fly zone, zones inside of Syria, safe zones for both refugees and the creation of a well-trained Army that would be supported by the Arab world and the United States and it would require more than just air power for the United States. We would have to have, we would have to lead. Now, the idea -- the President is correct I think in putting special operators on the ground there but it's not really in the form of a strategy, it's basically one-off ideas that don't create a strategy. And he talks about containing ISIS as though that is a strategy. Well that's a strategy for failure.
Henderson: What about ground troops, putting U.S. ground troops, not some sort of coalition from the region, but honest U.S. military soldiers on the ground?
Bush: Yeah I think we're going to need to have a military presence if we're going to get an international force, which is essentially what we need to do. We can't do this alone. And it has to be with a strategy of dealing with the end result. Assume we're successful in taking out ISIS, we can't just depart. Hillary Clinton brags about Libya being a great example of smart power and when we led from behind and basically provided support for our European allies the net result was there was no plan in place to create a stable Libya afterwards. And now we have ISIS and other forms of terrorist groups in Libya that are destabilizing North Africa. So there has to be a clear strategy going forward and I think that does require more than just air power for the United States.
Henderson: Keep troops there for decades?
Bush: No. You could have some force, if we had 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Iraq we probably wouldn't have had ISIS. We've had troops in Korea, we've had troops in Japan, we've had troops in Europe, so I can't prejudge what the end result would be but clearly we need to have a stable situation and I think it has to be driven by the neighborhood more than by the United States.
Lucey: Speaking about the situation with fighting terrorism, shortly after 9/11 President George W. Bush made a speech saying, Islam is peace. Do you agree with that statement?
Bush: Yeah, for the great majority of practitioners it is a peaceful religion. It has been co-opted by radical terrorists that have turned it into a political ideology for sure and I think it's okay if you're getting to the next question, which is, is it okay to call it radical Islamic terrorism. The idea that these President Obama, Hillary Clinton and others are tortured to be able to avoid actually calling it what it is I think is ridiculous. We're not insulting peace loving practitioners of the Muslim faith, of the Islamic faith, by calling ISIS a group of Islamic terrorists.
Lucey: But a lot of your competitors are talking about things like tracking Muslims, references to comparing refugees --
Bush: Not a lot, you're talking about Donald Trump and he's wrong.
Lucey: Well and comparing refugees to dogs. Do you think this kind of rhetoric is appropriate?
Lucey: And what does it say about the Republican Party?
Bush: It says that we have some candidates that are trying to get attention the wrong way. We're running for the President of the United States, it's a serious job and requires serious candidates that offer serious plans and I don't think that refugees are dogs. That's ridiculous. And I don't think that we should be tracking people unless there is well-founded evidence that people are preparing to attack us. And that's the job of the FBI.
Lucey: Should Donald Trump apologize for some of the statements he's been making?
Bush: Look, he's not going to apologize for anything. He's not a serious person and he's not, therefore it's hard to imagine him being President of the United States. He gets upset and he's going to start disparaging our allies or the Syria example is perhaps the classic one where he first says let ISIS take out Assad, let them fight themselves first, then let ISIS take out Assad, then let Russia take out ISIS and now he's saying let Russia do this as though Russia has an interest taking out ISIS, they have no interest in that. They're there to support their ally and to maintain a growing presence in the Middle East. This lack of seriousness is a serious problem for our country if a guy capable as he is as a politician became president and has no clue what's doing, that's a dangerous thing.
Borg: Well let me ask you, if he becomes the nominee, if, would you support him?
Bush: I pledge to support the nominee but I have total confidence that the republican primary voters are not going to support Donald Trump as the nominee.
Henderson: Let's turn to what many are referring to as a case of domestic terrorism. There was a shooting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. What measures do you support that would keep guns away from folks who are mentally ill? And would you support universal background checks for all gun purchases?
Bush: No I don't. And I don't think this is, that there is some effort to equate what happened, the tragedy in Colorado with ISIS, for example, that's just not even close. There's a caliphate the size of Indiana with 30,000 battle-tested Islamic terrorists that want to destroy western civilization. It's a far cry from a deranged person who sadly killed people in a clinic. It's totally two different things. I don't think universal background checks is the solution. But I do think we need to have a much better effort to create awareness when people have mental health challenges. At a minimum if there is some intervention in the mental health communities and the mental health networks there should be some way to protect privacy rights and all the things that people are concerned about but also make sure that the databases that states have are aware of their illnesses so that they don't have access to guns. On the larger issue, it seems to me the one consistent problem that we see with these horrific acts of violence is that people are totally deranged and they spiral out of control and there is no intervention in their lives. Basically in the world we live in you can go into the Internet and have all of your crazy views be validated and spiral out of control. And somehow as a society we need to figure out how we can reconnect with one another so that we can avoid these things.
Lucey: In the wake of the shooting, some critics are saying that the republican rhetoric against Planned Parenthood has become too heated. Do you agree with that? Does there need to be any kind of change?
Bush: I haven't seen any rhetoric that has been too heated but I don't know every utterance of every candidate. I know in my case I defunded Planned Parenthood, I find it horrific that they were selling body parts. I find it absolutely horrific and I have expressed my views that way but hopefully not in a way that incited anybody that was crazy to take a violent act.
Borg: You don't think the rhetoric, to follow up, has gone too far?
Bush: I haven't seen any rhetoric that would lead me to believe that, no.
Henderson: There seems to be a pretty stark divide in this country between republicans and democrats.
Bush: I've noticed.
Henderson: Is the country veering toward being ungovernable because of that?
Bush: It's a real, it's an interesting question. I think we are -- I know, look, we've had 240 years of existence and we've had a bad 10 years maybe, I don't know, there probably was some food fights in the 19th century that I'm not aware of, but a great majority of the time and we have been divided in the past there have been leaders that have forged consensus to allow us to go forward. And I think that is the first priority of the next president is to not assume that people that disagree with you are bad people because the minute you start doing that the impulse is to push them down to make yourself look better. We've had seven long years of that and it doesn't work. And then the President feels compelled to act with authority he may not even have in the Constitution through executive orders and that just creates the divide even bigger. We have to start getting back to kind of a regular order way of how our democracy is supposed to work. And it starts with the premise that you can do this, you can disagree with people with civility and respect, it's not a question of weakness when you stand on your principle, but do it in a way that respects the other person's point of view. I mean, today in Washington even when they agree they don't, the reauthorization of the K-12 law is going to happen I think, today I think.
Borg: No Child Left Behind.
Bush: Well, it's the ESAA or whatever it's called. But yeah, No Child Left Behind is simpler to remember. And that is one of the few examples where left and right came together to pass. I don't know if the President is going to sign it into law but there's so few examples because even when there's agreement they don't move forward.
Lucey: There's a new book out this week about the republican party and some of these challenges and one of the things in there it says that earlier this year your brother told you to say what you needed to say in response to questions about the Iraq War earlier this year. What other advice has he given you?
Bush: First of all, that book is crap. You guys are journalists and you know it when you see it.
Lucey: Did this not happen?
Bush: There's no sources to any of this stuff, there's no -- this is the world we're in now where people, tabloid journalism is passing for the kind of journalism that you all have practiced in your careers. As it relates to my brother he has given me good advice.
Lucey: Did he not say this thing about say what you need to say?
Bush: My brother has given me really good advice and most of it is just to stick with it, be patient, it's a long process and just be who you are and focus, be optimistic and be strong.
Henderson: This past week more of Secretary Clinton's emails were released to the public, one of which had some commentary on the caucus process saying that it brings out the party's extremes. Do you agree?
Bush: No I don't. I don't. I also found it amusing she had nicknames for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. A lot of spare time apparently when you're Secretary of State to be able to focus on politics and meanwhile back at the ranch we had big, pressing problems that she didn't have access to communicating with the Ambassador to Libya, for example. So no I don't think that the caucuses are related to people of the extreme show up, I think that's just ludicrous. I think she's a little bitter because she lost ever caucus when she ran against Barack Obama because she was out-organized. The caucuses are a great tool for organization. You can't win the caucuses unless you're really dedicated to getting people to come out, what is it, Monday night, 7 to 8:30 or something like that, that requires a total commitment, it requires a real solid grassroots effort and I think that's healthy.
Borg: As long as we're talking about the caucuses how do you view the Iowa caucuses. Up front in our discussion here you named some other states and we're well organized in those states and you seemed to indicate don't judge us by what's happening now, I'm in it for the long haul. But in Iowa what kind of a showing do you have to -- are you saying you don't have to make a really good showing in Iowa because I've got these other states and I'm going to do well, it's a sprint, it's a marathon?
Bush: I think we're going to do well in Iowa to be honest with you and we have a great organization here for sure. We have more public supporters than any campaign.
Borg: Where are you predicting that you --
Bush: I'm not going to predict anything. That's a dangerous -- that's quick sand and I'm not the right person to do that. I'm a candidate. I go and I'm being and doing and connecting as best I can with people. We had three town hall meetings yesterday working hard at this and we're making really good progress here.
Borg: So you're saying no matter how I do in Iowa don't judge me by how I do in Iowa, it's how I'm going to do in the long haul?
Bush: I didn't say that, I said I'm really doing well here and I intend to do well in the early states because they have influence on March when the delegates really start adding up. You have the SEC primary, so-called SEC primary March 1st and then March 15th you have five or six states the majority of which will be winner take all and all of those states are influenced by Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Henderson: Do you think the nomination will be decided by the voters? Or do you think it will be decided by the delegates at the Republican National Convention?
Bush: I don't know, given the fact that many of these states now have laws of proportionality that are imposed by the RNC, whoever came up with that idea may not have thought it through, it could go for a lot longer than what people anticipated. The whole plan apparently was to try to have a nominee be nominated early so that you wouldn't have the dark spot that happened when Mitt Romney got the nomination and was defined early on by his opponent. And it could be that this will go on longer.
Henderson: You have campaigned and said you want to be the disruptor in chief essentially. We have about half a minute left. Name one thing in government that you would like to disrupt.
Bush: Career civil service reform in Washington, D.C. lifetime employment for government workers. It has created an inefficient government, an arrogant government and workers in federal government receive pay and compensation that far exceeds their private sector counterparts. It's just not fair.
Borg: Do away with civil service?
Bush: Reform it so that you can fire people for incompetence. Lifetime employment protection should not exist in America in the 21st century.
Borg: Governor Bush, we're out of time. Thanks so much for making time with us today.
Bush: It's a blast.
Borg: Thank you. Well join us for another blast edition of Iowa Press next week, regular times, 7:30 next Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.