Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Friday pitched himself as the most conservative governor in the history of Florida, saying his record of success is something people yearn for in a Washington, D.C., culture that has not yet “contaminated” him.
“I was the most conservative governor in the state’s history, but I had a reformer’s heart,” Mr. Bush said, speaking at the Des Moines Register political soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. “We cut taxes every year totaling $19 billion. We reduced the state government workforce by 13,000. In fact, you can fire someone for incompetence in state government in Florida — I’m sorry, that’s a really radical idea. And you can reward public [servants] that do a better job.”
Mr. Bush, the son and brother of two former U.S. presidents, has defended the foreign policy legacy of his brother, former President George W. Bush, in recent days. But he also been working to portray himself as someone whose political record was forged outside the divisive arena of the nation’s capital.
“Yeah, I haven’t been in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Bush told reporters before his soapbox speech when asked if he is a “plausible outsider.” “I wouldn’t know how to drive — I could barely get from Dulles to Senator [Charles] Grassley’s office — I think I could probably get there with GPS.”
“I mean, I never lived there. … I’ve been a reform-minded governor. I’ll tell that story,” he said. “I’m blessed with a great family, but my record of success is something people yearn for in Washington, D.C.”
He took a shot at how President Obama has been selling the nuclear deal with Iran.
“This idea that a president tears down his opponents, demonizes ‘em, says that if you’re against the Iran deal, you’re part of the ‘death to America’ [or] you’re in cahoots with the ‘death to America’ crowd?” he said. “Give me a break. I mean, this is not how we’re going to solve our problems.”
“I haven’t been contaminated by that culture that always tries to demonize and divide. I’m from Florida. We solve problems there,” he said.
Mr. Bush was in a tie for seventh at 5 percent in a CNN/ORC survey on the Republican field in Iowa released earlier in the week. But the former governor, who has described himself as a “joyful tortoise,” said there’s a long way to go.
“Look, polls are irrelevant,” he told reporters. “During the … 10 days of the state fair, there will be people moving up and moving down — it’s always been that way. I’ll remind you that my dad in 1980 was probably [an asterisk] at this point, and last time around there were candidates that were winning at this point that never even made it to the starting line.”
“This is an all-in state — you got to organize, you got to get people to commit to attending the caucuses, recruiting others to go to the caucuses. … You gotta go campaign,” he said.
Asked whether he was “all in here,” Mr. Bush said, “Oh, yeah — I’m competitive. You gotta show respect for Iowans. They’re discerning voters, they want to hear what’s on your mind, and I do think leadership matters a lot. You see what’s going on in the world today. We need to re-engage and be the leader in the world [to] create a safer world for ourselves and for the rest of the world.”