Interview with Jeb Bush: ‘I Would Win Consistency Award’

Photo credit: John Kenny

Photo credit: John Kenny


They keep on saying he’s dead, politically. His poll numbers are in the low digits and his protege, the charismatic Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, is leaping ahead of him in the sweepstakes and the crucial primary state of New Hampshire. But Jeb Bush is not showing any signs of raising the white flag.

In recent town hall meetings in New Hampshire, following his improved appearance at the last televised debate, Jeb has shown more energy, more passion and, above all, a sense of toughness. If only he could win the GOP nomination, the former Florida Governor, and son and brother of U.S. presidents, would have the best shot to challenge Hillary Clinton and win in the fall, supporters say.

“I’m just telling you that in my opinion, out of all those who’re running, Jeb is the only one that would make an outstanding president,” Sam Fox, a former Ambassador and the former national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told Jewish Insider.

In a wide-ranging interview with Jewish Insider, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Jeb explained the reason he has maintained significant support among Jewish donors despite the summer free fall is because “they know I could be president.”

“Look, people of the Jewish faith – that are Americans – love this country as much anybody else does and, first and foremost, they want a strong America,” he asserted. “Yeah, they want a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship where there’s strong trust and that the relationship isn’t torn aside because of personal animosity, which this president has effectively done. They know that I will restore that trust and restore a relationship that will create security for Israel and security for the United States.”

Jeb also boasted about his consistency. “I think people, first and foremost, think I could be a pretty good president. And secondly, they know that I am not going to veer from my views. I believe what I believe. I am not going to be pressured for political purposes to bent, and many of the other candidates seem to have a tendency to do that.”

But there’s also another reason the Republican presidential hopeful has managed to uphold his standing in the pro-Israel community. Over the past few months, his brother George W. Bush headlined several fundraisers in support of his campaign. Jeb is often asked on the trail whether he’s more similar to his brother, George W., or his father George H. Bush. On Thursday, during a town hall meeting in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Jeb once again addressed the issue. “I’m blessed to be George and Barbara’s son, and I’m blessed to be George W.’s brother. But the world we’re in today is dramatically different than 2000, when my brother got elected, and 2001, when the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and the plane went down in Pennsylvania.”

The question also comes up on the issue of Israel. One of Jeb’s foreign policy advisors in James Baker, who served as Secretary of State under George H. Bush, known for his clashes with the Israeli government in the early ’90′s. Baker addressed a J Street conference in DC last year, angering pro-Israel donors, including Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. “Although Netanyahu and his right-and-center coalition may oppose a two-state solution, a land-for-peace approach has long been supported by a substantial portion of the Israeli body politic, by every American [administration] since 1967 — Republican and Democratic alike — and a vast majority of nations around the world,” Baker said during his speech at the J Street conference.

More recently, during a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum, Jeb said he takes his advice on Israel from his brother George W., who is admired by Republican Jews for his pro-Israel stance as president.

During the interview with Jewish Insider, Jeb insisted that Baker is “not providing advice as it relates to Israel” and that his brother’s legacy is what will guide him in his relationship with Israel and the peace process. “My brother’s legacy is one that has brought a realistic view that there’s no moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as it relates to forging consensus on how to move forward,” he stated. “I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple.”

Bush also touted his pro-Israel record as Governor of Florida, going back to his time as Secretary of Commerce in the late 1980’s when he signed a trade agreement between Israel and the State of Florida with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was the Minister of Commerce at the time.

We also discussed the Iran nuclear agreement with the former Florida Governor. But unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, Jeb refused to give a straight answer as to what he would do with the nuclear deal on Day One. “I would reimpose sanctions where there have been violations as it relates to their testing of medium-range missiles. I would reimpose sanctions immediately and confront their ambitions to undermine the region,” was the only answer he was willing to give on the matter.

“Would you seek to renegotiate the international accord or tear up the deal?” we asked.

“You know, I think the bigger issue is the overall relationship, not just the nuclear aspect. We have as much of a challenge and a threat as it relates to our security, the security of Israel and the security of the Middle East,” he responded. “I think the fallacy of Obama was he targeted this in a very narrow fashion; unilaterally made concessions that were supposed to be Ironclad when he started, and sends a signal of weakness that not only impacts us – it has destroyed the trust that is essential between the U.S. and Israel – but also sends a signal to Asia, Europe and other places that we are not a serious country anymore.”

Read a transcript of the interview below:

Question: Given the latest missile tests and the reluctance of the administration to impose sanctions on Iran, would you do on Day One with the nuclear agreement?

Jeb Bush: “I would reimpose sanctions where there have been violations as it relates to their testing of medium-range missiles. I would reimpose sanctions immediately and confront their ambitions to undermine the region. By our giving the appearance of changing sides in the Sunni-Shia conflict, we’ve created — we have participated in the instability of the region. And I think we need to be clear that our traditional allies, we have not abandoned them. We need to challenge Iran’s ambitions as it relates to formatting terror across the region, and we need to impose sanctions, immediately, which could have some effect because we still are the largest market in the world for many of the companies that are looking to do business in Iran; we need to make it clear that until Iran complies with all of its agreements that they shouldn’t do that.”

“There is also an element in this that I find appalling, which is there’s been no effort to try to support the Americans held hostage by the Iranian government. Apart from destabilizing what the Quds forces have, their support for Hezbollah and the rebels in Yemen, and their propping up of the brutal Assad regime, they are also holding Americans. And we should not be legitimizing a regime that is an existential threat to our strongest ally in the region – Israel, and is constantly trying to create upheaval in the region and holds hostage of Americans. I find it appalling.

Q: Would you, therefore, seek to renegotiate the international accord or tear up the deal?

JB: “You know, I think the bigger issue is the overall relationship, not the just the — the fallacy of the Obama administration is that it’s focused just on one element of this which is — the nuclear aspect. We have as much of a challenge and a threat as it relates to our security, the security of Israel and the security of the Middle East. I think the fallacy of Obama was he targeted this in a very narrow fashion. He unilaterally made concessions that were supposed to be Ironclad when he started and sent a signal of weakness that not only impacts us – it has destroyed the trust that is essential between the U.S. and Israel – but also sends a signal to Asia, Europe and other places that we are not a serious country anymore.”

Q: In Iran’s dispute with Saudi Arabia, how far would you go to support the Saudis in defending them from Iran?

JB: “Look at history – the Saudis have been oil allies of the United States, and Iran has been a consistent enemy of the interests of the U.S. and of our own country. I think we need to show support to Saudi Arabia. One would hope that there’s not an armed conflict coming forward. But our inability to be consistent in terms of our support of one of our strongest and longest-serving allies in the region, is partially the reason why we have this conflict emerging. If there was a sense that the United States had to back up Saudi Arabia, I don’t think they would’ve taken any kind of actions that would have provoked Iran. But I think if we had to pick between Iran and Saudi Arabia, we should be on the side of Saudi Arabia.”

Q. You said last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum that your brother George W. is your advisor on Israel. You also have James Baker as your foreign policy advisor. How do you balance that? Who has greater influence?

JB: “We have scores of advisers that were named, and James Baker is a statesman; he’s a friend, but he’s not providing advice as it relates to Israel. I speak to my brother regularly. I think his relationship with Israel is a model of how to go about the U.S. relationship with Israel – that you don’t force Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians until they have established some degree of credibility, because they have none; until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State inside safe and secure borders, or say it not; until they have the political legitimacy to not only commit to a deal but enforce a deal, which they don’t. And my brother’s legacy is one that has brought a realistic view that there’s no moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as it relates to forging consensus on how to move forward.”

“I do seek my brother’s advice, and I think he was a great president as it relates to having undying, committing loyalty to the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

Q: Your brother was also the first U.S. President to endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian State publicly. He pushed for the implementation of the two-state solution. And he continuously called on Israel to stop its settlement activity, at least outside of the large settlement blocs. Would you bring the same views to the White House if elected?

JB: “As I said, I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple.”

Q: Would you do anything different to bring the two parties together in negotiating a peace settlement?

JB: “Not until the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders; not until they stop the hatred of the Jewish State, and of Jews in general; not until they stop teaching their children to hate Israelis, and not until they have the capability of delivering on any negotiated settlement. No, I wouldn’t. That’s the lesson learned by my brother’s administration.”

Q: Are you planning a trip to Israel during the campaign or as the first trip abroad as president?

JB: “I’ve been to Israel five times. I don’t have plans to visit there. But what I’ve said is that on Day One, I would announce that the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Q: As Governor of the State of Florida, are there any moments you can recall as it relates to your relationship with the Jewish community?

JB: “The State Board of Administration made an extended commitment to purchase Israeli bonds. We obviously stopped any kind of disinvestment ideas, that never became a real threat but was discussed by left-wing groups. When I was governor, I traveled on a trade mission that was focused on high-technology – that was extraordinary – meeting a lot of young Israeli entrepreneurs inspiring the start-up nation. We were focused on building an innovative economy as well, so we learned a lot and had a lot of commonality of interest.”

“One of the things I did when I was Secretary of Commerce was to create a trade agreement between Israel and the State of Florida. This was in the late 1980’s, and Ariel Sharon was the Minister of Commerce that signed the agreement, which was pretty extraordinary. I was so honored to participate in that ceremony.”

Q: Some have called it an exaggeration you taking credit for Operation Joshua, the rescue of Ethiopian Jews in 1985. What was your role in that mission?

JB: “I give credit to my dad, who was in government and acted decisively and saved lives. I was simply a conduit to get people that were knowledgeable about the situation to brief my dad, and he acted.”

Q: Despite your low poll numbers, you’ve maintained strong support among Jewish donors; you launched the first Jewish leadership team, why do you think you’ve attracted that level of support?

JB: “Because they know I could be president. They know I have a steady hand. They know I have the leadership skills to keep our country safe. Look, people of the Jewish faith – that are Americans – love this country as much anybody else does and, first and foremost, they want a strong America. Yea, they want a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship where there’s strong trust and that the relationship isn’t torn aside because of personal animosity, which this president has effectively done. They know that I will restore that trust and restore a relationship that will create security for Israel and security for the United States.”

“I think people, first and foremost, think I could be a pretty good president. And secondly, they know that I am not going to veer from my views. I believe what I believe. I am not going to be pressured for political purposes to bent, and many of the other candidates seem to have a tendency to do that.”

Q: Who are you referring to, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie?

JB: “I will let you be the judge of consistency. I can just tell you that if they are giving out awards for consistency on political views, among the candidates running for president, I will win that award.”


Comments are closed.