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NBC News "Meet the Press" - Transcript: On Jeb Bush's Campaign Relaunch

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Choose your metaphor, on life support, in critical condition, on its deathbed. Whatever painful phrase you use, everyone agrees Jeb Bush's campaign is in trouble right now. Bush needed a good debate performance on Wednesday, and he failed spectacularly.

He's rebranding his campaign with a new slogan. It's called "Jeb Can Fix It." The phrase is supposed to mean that Bush can fix the country's problems. But a lot of people are already joking that the "it" Jeb needs to fix is his candidacy. And that's the big question hanging over the Bush campaign: Can Jeb fix it? At this critical moment, I caught up with Bush in Miami yesterday. And I began with a question a lotta people are asking.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Do you still want to be president?

JEB BUSH:

I do. I do. I see great possibilities for our country. I honestly believe we're on the verge of greatness. We have to fix some really big, complex things, and I have the leadership skills to do it, and I'm fired up about that. That's what motivates me.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand why a bunch of supporters think that you don't-- that there's something missing?

JEB BUSH:

No, I don't--

CHUCK TODD:

The fire's missing?

JEB BUSH:

No, I don't.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you know why they think that?

JEB BUSH:

Probably because they watch the cable shows and they read the political press. But if they followed me on the campaign trail, like last week in New Hampshire where we had 300 people totally connected, totally believing in me, I think they would see a different candidate. I've just got to be able to break through the clutter of all the punditry class, and I think I can do that.

CHUCK TODD:

What happened at the debate? What happened in that moment? You made your point with Senator Rubio, and you didn't fire back.

JEB BUSH:

Well, I got cut off. That debate was a really weird debate just because you didn't get a chance to continue on. I literally got cut off by all three of them saying, "Next question, next question." The basic point with Marco isn't that he's not a good person or he's not a gifted politician; everybody can see that. It's that I have proven leadership skills.

I got to be governor of a state and accomplish big things. And in this era of gridlock, it's really hard to break through, and I think he's given up. And I think that's the wrong thing to do. This is about public service, about solving problems. If you look at the three people on the stage from the United States Senate, all three of them have a combined two bills that became law that they've sponsored. If you look at Hillary Clinton, in ten years, three bills she sponsored that became law. This is the gridlock that I'm running to try to break up. I can change the culture in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you re-watch the debate?

JEB BUSH:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't?

JEB BUSH:

I've been busy campaigning.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't feel as if, you've said you're not a good debater. Do you want to be a better one?

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, I do. Absolutely. And I--

CHUCK TODD:

So how do you do that?

JEB BUSH:

--will be better. Look, I know that I got to get better at doing the debate. I'm a grinder. I mean, when I see that I'm not doing something well then I reset and I get better. And I'm--

CHUCK TODD:

Tell me about--

JEB BUSH:

--going to be better.

CHUCK TODD:

--the reset.

JEB BUSH:

Well, I'm going to do what you have to do. This is not debating. I mean--

CHUCK TODD:

I understand.

JEB BUSH:

--whatever it's called, it's certainly not debating. Because I can complete a sentence in the English language pretty well, and I have ideas that will lift people up. My focus in the debate, I will change the whole conversation. So if someone asks me about Fantasy Football next time, which was kind of bizarre if you think about it, I'll talk about the people I've met that are really worried that they have declining income. They're worried about their children having more opportunities.

I'm campaigning hard amongst people that truly believe that their future is not bright, and it breaks my heart because this extraordinary country has never been this way. And if we fix how we tax and regulate, fix the broken systems that are all around us, this world will be a time of abundance. So I'm going to change the conversation on my terms.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you know but a week ago, you seemed extraordinarily frustrated, and you're obviously frustrated now. Frustrated with the punditry class, a little frustrated with the debate.

JEB BUSH:

No, look--

CHUCK TODD:

But you went off. You said, "I got plenty of cool things to do. I don't--"

JEB BUSH:

No, that was completely--

CHUCK TODD:

--"need this." What did that mean?

JEB BUSH:

--taken out of context. I got a standing ovation in front of 500 people, not all of whom were my supporters. This was Tim Scott's deal. Ask him. I mean, there was a real connection there. What I was saying don't elect me if you want to maintain the gridlock. It's not about me. It's not about the personalities on the stage.

It's about fixing how we tax and regulate so that you can rise up. That's my mission. But don't vote for me if you think that I'm going to be part of that system and because I'm president I'll think that's a really cool thing. That's not what this is about. It's about leading. It's about public service. It's about fixing broken things that I know how to do because I got to do it as governor. And that's the story I told.

CHUCK TODD:

Some of the things you've said about this campaign this year, you said about the 2012 campaign. You said this in a speech after watching a couple of debates in 2012: "I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I'm wondering. I don't think I've changed, but it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective. And that's kind of where we are." That was Jeb Bush in February of 2012.

JEB BUSH:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Sounds like you right now.

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, that's my speech.

CHUCK TODD:

The party hasn't changed.

JEB BUSH:

That's my speech in Tampa.

CHUCK TODD:

But this party hasn't changed.

JEB BUSH:

That's my speech in Tampa. That's exactly the speech I'm going to give on Monday, tomorrow, to talk about how we need to be hopeful and optimistic, have an aspirational message. I don't think conservatives are going to win the presidency unless we campaign with our arms wide open, inclusive--

CHUCK TODD:

That message, that's not the way Dr. Carson or Donald Trump are campaigning--

JEB BUSH:

I don't know, Dr. Caron, you know you're right about Trump for sure. Dr. Carson I think has a more hopeful message, and others do as well. And I just know that's how we're going to win, and that's who I am. It doesn't matter anything else. I'm not a grievance candidate, I'm a candidate that believes we're on the verge of greatness but it's going to require the leadership skills to fix things.

And that's my message. It's how I started my campaign in Kendall, where you grew up. And that's what I'm going to do tomorrow in a speech in Tampa. And that's going to be the basis of my campaign, for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand why conservatives are skeptical of a guy named Bush?

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, sure. I mean, a lot of people are. I've gotta go earn it. This isn't done by, you know like we say in Miami, "por dedo." It's not by decree, you've gotta go earn it. And all of the tribulations of a campaign, and we're having our share, there's no doubt about it. I have enough self-awareness to know that this is the bumpy time of a campaign.

This pales by comparison to being commander-in-chief. I wear this because I think about what it is to be president. This is given to me by a mom of a Marine who was killed in action in Afghanistan. There's a lot tougher things that you have to do than debating, going to nine debates in a Republican primary. There's big things that presidents have to do. So this is the process. I totally understand it, and I'm more than prepared to fight on.

CHUCK TODD:

You did say something that some may say is prescient: That you're willing to lose the primary to focus on the general.

JEB BUSH:

I'm not going to prey on people's fears. I'm not going to prey on their angst. I'm going to offer solutions. That's what I meant by that. And we have a lot of candidates that I think the easy out is to say, you know, "Follow me because I'm angry too." That's not going to win the general election. It's important to understand people's frustrations, they're legitimate. But the only way we win is to draw people towards our cause. And you can do that and be true to yourself.

CHUCK TODD:

You even said working with Democrats, saying you'll do that, is unpopular with your party.

JEB BUSH:

How are we going to solve these problems? There's no way. I mean, all the big issues in American history have been solved by a strong president working across the aisle unifying the country. We now have a divider-in-chief who pushes people down that disagree with him. And I think Hillary Clinton, the exact same thing. I thought it was striking that the leading--

CHUCK TODD:

You don't think your party's been--

JEB BUSH:

--Democratic candidate--

CHUCK TODD:

--divisive too?

JEB BUSH:

Yeah. No, it has. I admit that. But I'm looking at the Democrats where Hillary Clinton says that her biggest enemies are Republicans-- man, that sets the stage for a really phenomenal time if she's elected. If 50% of the American people are her enemies, how can she lead? How could she solve problems?

We need someone that actually believes that our ideas are strong enough and powerful enough to convince people to join us. That's how Ronald Reagan did it, that's how great things happen in this country. We need to restore that for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Some folks who will sit there and say you're frustrated because, boy, a member of the Bush family can't believe they're losing.

JEB BUSH:

No. I don't even think about that. I love my dad. I'd kill for him. I'd go to prison for him because I love him so much; thankfully, I haven't had the need to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

He seems to be really upset about Donald Trump.

JEB BUSH:

He's, he's-- my contribution to my dad's life is that he's gotten fired up again. Kind of a--He's not watching CSI, he's watching--

CHUCK TODD:

He's watching a different reality show?

JEB BUSH:

He's watching the shows, as Donald Trump calls them, and he's enjoying getting back in the game. I love my family, but I've got to go earn it. I've known that from the very beginning. I've known this was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be a challenge, and it should be.

CHUCK TODD:

1996 you told Larry King that you didn't think Bob Dole should have a litmus tests for cabinet appointments or judicial appointments. That one issue shouldn't do it, at the time--

JEB BUSH:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--referring to abortion. You said, "You know what? There's 100 things that make somebody a conservative, not just one issue."

JEB BUSH:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you still believe that? No litmus tests?

JEB BUSH:

I don't believe in litmus tests, but I'm going to make sure that my appointments to the Supreme Court would have a consistent proven record of judicial restraint.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're not going to ask a potential Supreme Court justice if they would overturn Roe v. Wade?

JEB BUSH:

No, but I would ask deep questions about judicial philosophy, and then make sure that the person had a proven record. I think the lessons of the last few years is that you've got to fight for your candidates that you nominate, and they ought to have a clear, consistent record so that you have a higher assurance they're not going to wander off.

CHUCK TODD:

You had said that, at the time, you didn't think that there was a broad enough consensus to fight for a constitutional amendment against abortion. You still feel that way?

JEB BUSH:

I think that what we ought to do is elect conservatives, like myself and others, that believe that life is a gift from God and life is precious.

CHUCK TODD:

Speaking of life, have you changed your mind on the death penalty?

JEB BUSH:

I'm conflicted. I am. It was the law of the land when I was governor, and I faithfully dealt with it. To be honest with you, it is not a deterrent anymore because it's seldom used. It clogs up the courts, it costs a ton of money. And--

CHUCK TODD:

Are you one of those that look at the fiscal part of it and say, "You know what? Maybe it makes more fiscal sense to not do it"?

JEB BUSH:

Here's the one thing, and it's hard for me, as a human being, to sign the death warrant, to be honest with you. I'm informed by my faith in many things, and this is one of them. So I have to admit that I'm conflicted about this. But here's the deal, when you meet people, this happens in rare cases where the death penalty's given out and you meet family members that have lost a loved one and it's still in their heart. It's etched in their soul. And this is the way that they get closure, I get more comfortable with it, to be honest with you.

But we should reform it. If it's to be used as a deterrent, it has to be reformed. It can't take 25 years. That does no one any good. Neither the victims nor the state is solving this problem with that kind of tangled judicial process.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're still in favor of it, but?

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, but I'm just saying, look, this is life, Chuck. It's not all either/or. Sometimes you can see both sides. And I believe life is truly a gift from God, and innocent life particularly should be protected at all cost, for sure. But people that commit these crimes, there should be-- justice can't be denied. And it shouldn't be delayed. And maybe there's a better way to do this where victims feel as though they're being served, because that should be front and center, the first obligation of the state.

CHUCK TODD:

One quick follow on abortion. What exceptions are you comfortable with on abortion?

JEB BUSH:

I accept, just that my views haven't changed. I believe in the exceptions of rape and incest and the life of the mother, of course.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a line on health? What is that line on life and health of the mother?

JEB BUSH:

Well, the life of the mother, not health of the mother.

CHUCK TODD:

Last question. General Stanley McChrystal has a favorite interview question: What would someone who doesn't like you say about you?

JEB BUSH:

Probably, I think people in Florida would have said, "It's my way or the highway."

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, that comes up a lot. Why are they wrong? Or why did they get that impression?

JEB BUSH:

Well, I fought, I fought, I fought. I fought for my beliefs--

CHUCK TODD:

So some of that is true?

JEB BUSH:

It is true. And at the end of it, people respected me. I left with--

CHUCK TODD:

It's not a compromiser though.

JEB BUSH:

Huh?

CHUCK TODD:

"My way or the highway," is not a compromiser.

JEB BUSH:

Well, because I had an environment where I could reach, I could drive, I could change the agenda because I had friends that supported me. And at the end, I had a 67% approval rating when I left. This is a purple state, as you know. Half a million more Democrats than Republicans. I won double-digit in my reelection. I got 60% of the Hispanic vote because people respected me because I had a heart for them.

I fought for my ideas. People knew I wasn't doing this because I was the big guy on the stage. They knew that I had a heart for people. I'm releasing a book on Monday called Reply All and it's really the essence of the servant leadership that I had as governor of this state.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

A lot to chew on there. The Jeb Bush campaign, trying to reset and re-announce on Monday. We've got a lot to talk with the panel, and they'll all weigh in in just a moment. And later, the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. He's got the big job now. What does he plan to do with it?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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