Jeb Bush rates his debate performance: I thought I did great

Exclusive interview with Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor on 'Your World'


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," August 7, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, we always had a feelings it was a big deal, but this big a deal?

Consider this. Last night, more than 24 million Americans tuned in to that big opening Fox presidential debate, 24 million viewers. We had never seen a cable news broadcast of any sort, of any length get anything close to that number, that big, that important, and maybe that riveting.

Now, what is to credit or at least get the blame for that? Depending on where you are in the political spectrum, it was either Donald Trump or it was just a lot of fighting, or maybe it is this next guy, the former Florida governor, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush joining me now in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Governor, very good to have you.

JEB BUSH, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Neil. It's great to be with you.

CAVUTO: Are you surprised at those numbers, Governor, when they came in?  That's a lot of people.

BUSH: Well, I shook hands with about 150 people at lunch today at a lobster place, and every person there said the saw the debate. And then I saw the numbers were as you said. It was -- there's a lot of interest in this campaign.

Our country is going on the wrong track and I think people want to hear from candidates that have a view about the future of our country, how we can grow our economy and how we can fix a few really big complex things.  And so I think there's real interest, sincere interest in this campaign.

CAVUTO: All right. There was some disappointment expressed in your performance, Governor. I'm sure you heard it, but tepid, uneven. That was coming from Yahoo!. Cautious, maybe overly so, The L.A Times. Jeb Bush stumbles, via CNN. Bush seemed nervous, using his own lines, unconvinced with his own lines, Huffington Post. Jeb Bush's performance will probably not reassure party elites, that from The New York Times.

What do you think of that?  

BUSH: I thought I did great.

I got to talk about the things that are important to me. I got to answer the question of immigration with a specific plan, so that we can grow our economy again and respect the rule of law and secure our borders. I got to answer the education question.

Look, we should be on offense on education. This whole idea that somehow we're not the party for education reform, I have a proven record as governor of the state of Florida that I want to take to Washington, D.C.

We have too many children that aren't gaining the power of knowledge, and I know how to change big complex things, and I got to tell that Florida story. So, I thought it went fine.

CAVUTO: All right, so you're not troubled when a lot of people say -- watching the debate, Governor, I got the sense that you certainly got your footing as the debate went on. But at first, it was Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. What did you think?


BUSH: Look, I got enough on my own plate to sort out. To try to analyze Donald Trump is way above my pay grade. He clearly -- look, he's got -- he garners attention with his language.

He is larger than life. But this debate last night showed that he doesn't have a lot of specifics, and ultimately the guy or gal who sits behind the big desk in Washington, D.C., has to have plans for the future of this country, and that's what campaigns should be about. How are you going to fix the border which right now is porous? How are you going to make sure that we have a tax code that doesn't stymie the next generation of job creators?

How do you fix the mind-numbing regulations that exist? That's my focus.  And then how do you create a more secure world with American leadership?  So, in the next few months, I'm going to lay out these proposals, defend them, and go forth to the American people and say, this is how we build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

CAVUTO: You mentioned Mr. Trump. And you had said in the past, when he has said outlandish stuff or critical stuff, you have largely refrained from going tit-for-tat.

BUSH: Yes.

CAVUTO: But you did say last night that Mr. Trump's language is divisive.  We're going to unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message.

I assume what you meant is that Donald Trump's message is not.

BUSH: I want to win. I want to win the presidency. A conservative has to win to fix these things, and language that divides us -- this reminds me of Barack Obama, not as a candidate, but Barack Obama as president.

All he does is push people that don't agree with him down to make his side look better and the divide makes it hard to solve problems. I don't think we are going to win that way. There are a whole lot of people that are deeply disaffected. The believe their future is not going to be bright.

Six million more people in poverty. The middle class has had declining income for a long while. We should be talking about issues that give people a sense their lives will be better, not about how bad things are or the kind of language that is really, really divisive that preys on people's legitimate angst.

CAVUTO: Governor, one of the things that came out is that Donald Trump wouldn't be among those who could rule out running as an independent and supporting whoever the party nominee was if it wasn't him.

Could you support him knowing that now if he were the party nominee?

BUSH: I didn't raise my hand, did I? As I have always done since the beginning, since I was 18 years old, I'm going to support the Republican nominee.

But it's it's going to be me because I think, over the long haul, people are going to want to know that the candidate can win, number one, and, number two, that the person needs to have the leadership skills to fix these things. So, I will entrust the voters in the Republican caucus and primary states in February and then going forth in March.

I trust them to make this decision, as it's always been. And I'm confident I'm going to be the nominee for the party.

CAVUTO: I got a sense, from what he was saying -- and you probably know -- you were standing right next to him -- that part of what he was saying, well, that depends. He's a shrewd businessman. He's obviously become a billionaire doing that, that maybe he could extract a deal or something that would -- it depends on how he's treated.

If you were the nominee, Governor, would there be some sort of a deal or something that you would offer to keep him from bolting?

BUSH: Look, that's way too premature. I have got three more stops today.  Going to Atlanta tomorrow. I'm off to the Reagan Library on Tuesday.

I have got events all over the country. I'm full-time at this. I have no clue what the future holds as it relates to Mr. Trump. I hope he stays as a Republican. And I hope that I win, to be honest with you.

CAVUTO: All right. When he was coming at you and talking about, no offense, Governor, he was saying, but the last three months of your brother's administration were a total disaster, in other words, saying that that set the stage for Barack Obama, how did you feel about that?

BUSH: This is politics. It's a contact sport. I totally get it.

My focus is on how do we fix the most convoluted tax code in the world, so that we can grow again? How do we fix the most convoluted regulatory system in the world, so that businesses can start up? Neil, you know this.

More businesses are failing today than starting up. People don't believe their future is going to be bright, and that their children are going to have less opportunities. That's the great challenge, not all this personalities on the stage. I worry about people that are really struggling to rise up right now, that their dreams are being limited.

That is what I focus on each and every day. Who is winning, who is losing in the here and now is really not that relevant to me.

CAVUTO: I'm going to belabor that, one last Trump question, if you will indulge me, sir.


CAVUTO: And that is that you did get the -- his comments about Mexicans, and more to the point, we're told, about your wife, really got under your skin, and you used some very choice words to describe him. Was any of that true?

BUSH: No, that is not true.

Did it get under my skin, did it anger me that he retweeted a tweet saying that I'm soft on immigration because my wife is from Mexico? That is outrageous, unfair. My wife is an American, by the way, American by choice. She loves this country. She wants the border to be secure as well. So do -- so does everybody.

We got to get beyond this kind of conversation and get to, how do you solve securing the border? Well, you take Border Patrol agents, most of whom are 40 miles off the border, move them forward. You use technology the right way to make sure that where there's vulnerabilities, you identify people before they come in.

You do all that things that a leader does. Rather than just talking about it, you actually do it. And I have been a governor of a state, a big complex state where I got to solve problems each and every day.

One of the things I did was, I had eight hurricanes and four tropical storms hit my state in the course of about 17 months. I led. I know how to do this. And we need a leader that is not going to try to blame everybody else, that accepts responsibility, creates strategies, and fixes the things that are broken in this country.

CAVUTO: Do you think you were rusty, Governor? A lot of your critics said and even some of your friends he has been out of office for a while, he's an iconic figure, he's done debates, but the last one he was doing was more than a decade ago.

BUSH: If they want to elect a great talker, there's a bunch of people in Washington, D.C., that are extraordinary.

Look at President Obama. He is a fantastic talker. I'm a doer. I'm a doer. I can solve problems. I have conservative principles that are embedded in who I am. And I can apply those principles in creative ways for us to fix these broken systems.

Rather than talking about how bad things are or all this here-and-now politics stuff, I think the next conversation ought to be about what are your plans to fix these things and do you have the skills, is there anything in your past that would suggest that you have the skills to actually forge the kind of consensus necessary to fix big problems in this country?

When the conversation gets to that, I think you're looking at the next president of the United States.

CAVUTO: Governor, the Planned Parenthood dust-up, you had tried to explain shortly thereafter that, "I'm not sure we need half-a-billion dollars for women's health issues."

Now, you dialed that back, and I was always wondering, why did you dial that back?

BUSH: Well, first of all, we already fund women's health programs.

When I was governor, we increased those fundings. We have community health organizations all across this country that do spectacular work. What I was talking about is the actual $500 million that goes to Planned Parenthood.

What goes -- whether -- I think that should be defunded. Where that goes is a question that the Congress will have to deal with. But I'm not suggesting cutting back on women's health clinics. If people got that intention, got that from the statement I said, then they're wrong.

This is clearly my record, and this is what I said when I was in front of 11,000 people. No one there seemed to be surprised or confused about what I said.

CAVUTO: People do jump on what you say, Governor, maybe holding to your standing in the polls and the fact that they see you as a prohibitive favorite here, Donald Trump notwithstanding.

BUSH: Yes.

CAVUTO: Is that pressure getting to you?

BUSH: No, not at all.

But I do get a sense that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party and all of the left-wing groups, that they do have me as their target, which I wear as a badge of honor. If you think about it, that means that they think I'm the one that could defeat their candidate, whoever that person will be.

CAVUTO: Do you think you're too much of a gentleman?


Look, I think being civil is a good thing. Ultimately, we're going to get past the campaign. I know that's going to be really hard for everybody that loves all this stuff. But we are going to get to the next presidency.  And the next president is going to have to work across the aisle.

They're going to have to assume that people have good intentions. They just may have bad ideas. To be able to forge consensus, you have to assume that people have -- that they want the best for their country. Not everybody that disagrees with me, I consider to have bad motives. So, does that mean that I'm civil? Does that mean I'm too nice of a guy?

Gosh, I hope we get back to that, to be honest with you, because if we don't...

CAVUTO: No, I didn't mean it that as a disparaging comment, Governor.


CAVUTO: What I think I'm saying is that a lot of people say, he is a very nice guy. He's trying to be aboveboard on this. He's not trying to get in the dirt and start throwing mud back and forth.

BUSH: Yes. That's fair.

CAVUTO: But do you feel that, sometimes, given a debate like last night and the debates to come, you almost will have to be?  

BUSH: Well, if I get attacked, don't worry, I will fight back.

I fight hard. I'm a competitive guy. This is really important for our country. I'm going to fight with energy for the ideas that I believe in and the things that I hold true. So, don't worry about that.

But I'm going to do it with civility. I just can't -- there's no reason to push people down and disparage their motives each and every day. We have lived with Barack Obama doing this for six years, and our country is far worse off. Far worse off.

Racial tensions are higher. People don't believe the system works for them anymore. People are legitimately angry about this. And I don't want to participate in that and create an even worse environment, because people really deserve, I think, the kind of leadership that will draw us together to solve problems.

CAVUTO: Did you get any feedback from either your mom or your brother ore your dad?

BUSH: I got an e-mail from brother George saying, well done, Tortoise.  That's my new nickname, because I told him I'm the tortoise in the race.


BUSH: Slow, steady progress. Stay focused, stay steady. Do the right thing each and every day, and that's the way I intend to win, and so he now calls me the tortoise.


CAVUTO: He has a nickname for everybody, even his brother.

All right, so let me switch gears a little bit, sir.

BUSH: He does.

CAVUTO: In California, there's been some news. We were talking about illegal immigration.

But two illegal immigrants have been placed on a city council there, and a lot of citizens are upset because they are on this commission. They are illegals, and the mayor's argument for putting them on that was that they have a voice because there's a large illegal immigrant community. What do you think of that?

BUSH: I think it's outrageous.

Look, we have to respect the rule of law. If we're going to turn immigration into an economic driver, which I think it can be -- it can be part of a strategy to get to 4 percent growth -- we have to apply the rule of law. We have to respect the laws of society.

And the idea that illegal immigrants would be on a city council is absurd, just as it is for sanctuary cities to exist. You can't have cities that just blatantly violate federal law and then have the tragedies that take place, as they did outside of Cleveland and in San Francisco recently.

This is wrong. It's absolutely wrong. And it creates this feeling that we're never going to get to the proper place for immigration, because no one thinks that the borders are going to be secure, no thinks the rule of law applies. And they need to think that for us to get to the elements of immigration reform that will create higher sustained growth.

CAVUTO: Governor Bush, thank you for taking the time. I know you have had a crazy day, and we do appreciate it.

BUSH: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: All right. Governor Jeb Bush.

I'm still thinking of that tortoise thing. All right.  

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