Many Republicans may have sided with Donald Trump's controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., but his rival Jeb Bush predicts that the GOP faithful will eventually oppose the plan and see it his way.
"Trump clearly banning all Muslims would actually be so counterproductive in our efforts to destroy ISIS that it's foolhardy," the former Florida governor told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview Wednesday in Boston. "I mean, it's beyond ridiculous; it's quite dangerous."
Earlier this month, in response to terrorist threats, Trump said there should be "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
The plan was renounced by many of his Republican rivals and GOP leaders; Bush himself said Trump had become "unhinged." But polls showed a majority of Republican voters sided with Trump, and Trump's poll numbers went up in the aftermath, too.
But Bush believes that will change by the time actual voting rolls around in February.
"In a month from now they won't [agree]. That's the point," Bush said. "The point is that we're living in this reality-TV kind of political environment, where [Trump] fills the space by saying outrageous things. People based on their emotions will express support for the sentiment, not necessarily the specifics, because there are none, and then he'll backtrack. And he'll move on to the next thing, and he fills the space."
"I think the emotion of the here and now will subside," Bush continued. "Are people scared about the national security interests of our country being violated because of a lax immigration system or a visa waiver program that wasn't designed for people being radicalized? Yes, they're scared, and the job of a president — or a candidate, for that matter — isn't to scare them more; it's to give them solutions, and that's what I'm trying to do."
President Obama believes Trump is "exploiting" the anxieties of blue-collar workers in his campaign, as Obama told Inskeep in a wide-ranging interview at the White House this month.
Bush said he didn't exactly agree with the president's characterization of the root of that frustration.
"[Obama's] got this notion of what blue-collared, white voters kind of think that's so out of touch," he said. "People are legitimately angry with Washington, D.C. And, yes, Mr. President, they're legitimately angry with you. You have divided the country up in all sorts of disparate parts."
That division in the country, Bush argued, has allowed for an unconventional candidate to rise.
"I would argue that Donald Trump is in fact a creature of Barack Obama," he continued. "But for Barack Obama, Donald Trump's effect would not be nearly as strong as it is. We're living in a divided country right now, and we need political leaders, rather than continuing to divide as both President Obama and Donald Trump [do], to unite us."
Trump continues to lead national polls, but he has seen a dip in some of the early states. Most surveys show Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rising in Iowa. Bush has largely put his hopes in New Hampshire — a state much friendlier to establishment candidates, with its large swath of more moderate Republicans and independents.
Still, Bush is lagging there behind Trump and other rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Later Wednesday, the Bush campaign signaled it would be shifting more resources to early states, but with a particular focus on New Hampshire. It canceled planned ad buys in Iowa and South Carolina, pointing out that the superPAC supporting the governor had bought a chunk of ad time there. Next month, the campaign's efforts in the critical Granite State will double to more than 40 staffers.
Talking to Inskeep, Bush dismissed the notion that he had to win an early state, New Hampshire included, to remain in the GOP primary fight.
"I don't think I have to win any of them, because we're organized in every state," he explained. "So depending on how it plays out, if someone rolled the table, then that would have an impact. Be hard for anybody else to — to overcome it."
"The good news is, expectations are low for me, and I'm definitely gonna beat those," he said. "I feel really good about New Hampshire, to be honest with you. Just — just the way it — it feels."
The proposal ought to be, for a conservative, for the people who are here illegally, a path to legal status, not a path to citizenship. But a path, out from the shadows, where you pay a fine. Where you learn English. Where you work. Where you don't commit crimes. You don't receive federal government assistance, and over an extended period of time you earn legal status. ...
People came here illegally; 40 percent of the people that came here illegally, by the way, didn't cross the border. They came with a legal visa and they overstayed. A great nation ought to be able to identify where these folks are for national security purposes alone, but for a lot of other reasons as well. Why should people gain citizenship by coming here illegally? I — I just — I don't quite understand why that is such a compelling moral argument.
If anybody doesn't think that they would use whatever means possible to do us harm, I think they're naive. ... We can't be paralyzed in place, and that's where we are today. Whether or not ISIS is the greatest threat that we have in terms of the world, that's debatable. I would say Iran empowered by an agreement that will allow them now to destabilize the region is a serious threat. I would say an unstable Pakistan is a threat.
On Syrian refugees
When you have 4 million refugees in Syria — 4 million in camps, literally, you know, millions at a time in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — the destabilizing impact that has on those countries and the potential of a breeding ground for Islamic jihadist activity for — for a long, long while, that's a serious threat. When you see the refugee challenges that partially created the tragedy in Paris, that's a threat. I view it as a threat because it's a long-term threat against Western civilization. They effectively have declared war on us.
On the Bush "brand" and legacy
It would be integrity. It would be having a servant's heart. It would be patriotic, loving the country. And in my case, you know, look, I'm a conservative. But I believe that conservatism needs to be applied in a hopeful, optimistic way. And I think that's another part of the Bush brand that I hope people will be reminded of — that it's a hopeful, optimistic message, not a divisive one.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is in a street fight. The Republican has been hammered by Donald Trump on Twitter. Bush's allies are lashing out at other candidates with TV ads. Amid all of this, Bush sat with us in a Boston hotel for a more expansive discussion.
JEB BUSH: Is it OK if I complete a sentence in the English language with adjectives and adverbs or are we going Twitter kind of...
INSKEEP: (Laughter) Anything you want. Go to Spanish if you want to do that.
We did complete sentences about his rivals and, as we hear elsewhere in today's program, about his struggle to redirect the Republican Party. We also talked of a major issue of this year - the threat from ISIS. Earlier this year, Jeb Bush gave a speech offering a strategy to fight the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. He dismissed President Obama's strategy as incremental, adding force bit by bit.
What did you mean by that and what's wrong with it?
BUSH: Well, he hasn't laid out a strategy. In fact, until recently, he admitted - in the last year and three months he's admitted twice that we didn't have a strategy. He made the mistake of talking about containing ISIS as though that would be an effective strategy. And then shortly after that the tragedy of Paris took place. And incrementally you can continue to see it. There's been some success. This week, there was a successful airstrike that killed one of the high-ranking ISIS operatives. That's good news. But a strategy would require explaining to the American people what the objectives are, how we would go about doing it, doing it in a transparent way, I think. We view this as a threat to our national security. Not to overstate it, but it is clearly a threat in - particularly in the form that it exists as a caliphate. It wins each day that it exists.
INSKEEP: I think if the president were sitting here he might - had you read your speech where you laid out a number of steps against ISIS - he might argue that he is already doing a number of those steps, such as bombing ISIS or trying to train some local forces on the ground. But that you just want to do them incrementally more.
BUSH: Well, I'd say it's more than incrementally. If you, for whatever reason, you can't embed our troops inside of the Iraqi military, which other countries have done - if you can't directly arm the Kurds, which I think they are deserving of that support - if you - now, grant it, the president appears to his - we the United States appears to have begun the process of re-engaging with the Sunni tribal leaders that lost all confidence in the United States after the abandonment of Iraq. And so I think we're - the incremental part of this is that as he sees the threat grow he's moving in the right direction. But it isn't a strategy. A strategy would require a comprehensive reproach.
INSKEEP: Is this a serious enough threat that American lives should be on the line? You have laid out, for example, forward air controllers who would help guide airstrikes. Those are people who might be killed - Americans.
BUSH: Yes, it is a - it is a serious threat. When you have four million refugees in Syria and - four million in camps, literally, you know, millions at a time in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the destabilizing impact that has on those countries and the potential of a breeding ground for Islamic jihadist activity for a long, long while, that's a serious threat. I view it as a threat because it's a long-term threat against Western civilization. They effectively have declared war on us. I don't - you know, I think sometimes the president infers, well, it's not a threat because they're not going to invade us. Well, they could destabilize our way of life in a really serious way.
INSKEEP: Are they an existential threat?
BUSH: They are. They are. And if anybody doesn't think that they would use whatever means possible to do us harm, I think they're naive. And, look, you saw it in place - I mean, the Los Angeles school district was closed for two days because of a potential threat coming from an email. We're, you know, part of the job of being president...
INSKEEP: Is that a sign of an existential threat, though, or is that a sign of overreacting?
BUSH: Well, I was going to complete the sentence that part of the job of a president is to identify, distinguish between the two. Make sure the people know that we view it as a threat that we're - because people are scared and they're legitimately so. Take action accordingly. And then you're going to lessen people's fears on the day-to-day activities. We can't be paralyzed in place. And that's where we are today.
INSKEEP: At the same time, you said let's not overstate the threat from ISIS. Are some of your rivals for the Republican nomination playing up the threat from ISIS for political reasons?
BUSH: Well, I mean, Trump - clearly banning all Muslims would actually be so counterproductive in our efforts to destroy ISIS that it's foolhardy. I mean, it's beyond ridiculous. It's quite dangerous. So he's clearly playing that card. Talking about carpet bombing, that might be an overstatement of a strategy. But it is a threat. Look, don't - I don't want you to hear me and think that I'm discounting this threat. I just - what I'm saying is the president actually talks about it as though it's a law enforcement exercise in some ways. And I think it's bigger than that.
INSKEEP: What did you think, Governor, when Donald Trump called for banning Muslims from entering the country for a time? You called him unhinged. And then surveys came out and it was revealed that majorities of Republican primary voters said they agreed with him.
BUSH: Well, in a month from now, they won't. That's the point. The point is that we're living in this reality TV kind of political environment where he fills the space by saying outrageous things. People, based on their emotion, will express support for the sentiment, not necessarily the specifics 'cause there are none. And then he'll backtrack and he'll move on to the next thing. And he fills the space.
INSKEEP: You think if another poll was done in a month or two people would completely change their view on that issue.
BUSH: I think that the - I think the emotion of the here and now will subside. Are people scared about the national security interests of our country being violated because of a lax immigration system or a visa waiver program that wasn't designed for people being radicalized? Yeah, they're scared. And the job of a president, or a candidate for that matter, isn't to scare them more. It's to give them solutions. And that's what I'm trying to do.
INSKEEP: That's former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Now, when he spoke of waiting for the emotions of the here and now to subside, he could almost have been talking of his entire campaign. The Republican is determined to last long enough in the race that voters give him a second look. Elsewhere in today's program, Bush talks of his party's future.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And that's not all. While campaigning this year, Jeb Bush said he makes, quote, "really good guacamole." Campaign reporters, always hungry for new, have been seeking that recipe ever since. He gives it up, sort of, at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.