Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking in an interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, insisted he is indeed a conservative and dared anyone to question his credentials.
Asked whether he and fellow moderate Chris Christie could coexist with the Tea Party, Bush said, “I’m a conservative-a practicing one. I’m not a talk-about-it one. I would put my record up against anybody that is in Congress right now.”
Bush also took the liberty to disagree with his mother, who had said on NBC that he was the most qualified candidate, but he added, “There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes.”
Bush responded, “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says. At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”
When someone mentioned that Senator Ted Cruz speaks some Spanish, Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and has a wife from Mexico, took a gentle shot at Cruz and answered, “Not much. I’m not sure Ted speaks much Spanish. His dad speaks fluent Spanish. He’s a Cuban immigrant. He has a wonderful story to tell, a very powerful one.”
Bush said what makes him different from other prospective GOP presidential candidates is his lack of hostility when he speaks. He said:
It’s OK to have a tone that is not nasty or mean spirited-what good does that do? The harshness of our message is the bigger issue, I think, than the differences, the nuances, the different strains of conservative thought. For the Republicans to win, I think we need to focus on a message that is more hopeful and optimistic and more positive and less reactionary to what we have now. And it should be more inclusive. You don’t do that by narrowing your party and by purifying your party…You win by expanding your party and you do that by creating a totally different tone to your message that draws people in.
Bush supports the Senate’s immigration reform bill but expects the House to make some reforms, which he said “wouldn’t be a bad thing. If those elements are done separately and passed, you could go to conference and deal with it. I’ve talked to Speaker Boehner, and he’s totally committed to this but he needs to find a way to get enough of the support.”
Bush has been accused of flip-flopping on immigration. Although he has backed a proposal to give states the ability to deny some emergency room care to undocumented immigrants, and allowing local police to be “the eyes and the ears of the border patrol” in order to “extend the reach of enforcement,” he opposed a similar law enforcement bill in Arizona. He once opposed a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants but later said he could support it.
Asked if he has decided whether he will run in 2016, Bush grinned, “I’m trying to avoid the family conversation to be honest with you. I want to defer that to when it matters. There’s a time to make a decision. You shouldn’t make it too early, you shouldn’t make it too late. There’s a time. There’s a window. And this is not the time for me. This is the time to show a little self-restraint.”