Welcome to covering Jeb Bush, David Gregory.
On Sunday, the “Meet The Press” host learned that if you ask the former Florida governor a political-gossip question that attempts to pit him against a friend, he’ll parry and thrust.
Gregory: “Who’s the hottest Florida politician right now -- Is it you or [U.S. Sen.] Marco Rubio? Who are we more likely to see in the White House?”
Bush: “Man, you guys are crack addicts. You really are obsessed with all this politics.... Marco Rubio’s a great guy...”
Gregory: “You know, I’ve been called a lot of things…”
Bush: “Okay, heroin addict. Is that better?"
To call Bush’s smile icy would be too warm a description.
The exchange is vintage Bush. Ask any reporter who covered Bush on the campaign trail or in political office. Or ask any staffer who worked for him in either capacity. Bush challenges.
Gregory at least was concise, so he didn’t get the Bush trademark response to verbose questions: “Is that a question or a political statement?”
Bush has an approach-avoidance conflict with reporters: He seems to enjoy give-and-take, but he has a measure of disdain for many of us, especially political reporters, seen by Bush as purveyors of empty-calorie journalism. Bush has fashioned himself as a policy guy, someone who made major changes to education, proposed a mammoth Medicaid reform plan (in 2005 before it was sexy) and now is trying to tackle immigration. Yes, politics imbues policy.
But he’s getting a little weary of the media’s focus on his presidential ambitions and his friendship with Rubio. He’s probably just weary as well. He did all five news shows Sunday and spent the week on the road. Along the way, he has reversed and reversed himself on one immigration policy topic – a path to residency vs. a path to citizenship – that has left him a bit peevish.
Bush wants to talk about more of the policy ideas in his book (which we wrote about here) instead of the politics surrounding him. But in some ways, he's having it both ways, parlaying his political brand into high-profile interviews about his book while discounting the importance of politics.
Late last week, when I asked if the controversy is a good way to sell books, Bush laughed.
“I don’t think,” he chuckled. “I’d volunteer for it not to have happened, if I had my way. But it’s not anything that I’m losing any sleep over. It wasn’t designed. If I made a mistake, I didn’t assume that everything would be viewed through a political lens. In Washington, it seems, everybody assumes there’s a political motivation to everything. And not understanding that, I accept responsibility for it. Is it a big deal? No. When you’re governor, you have to deal with real big deals. This is not one of those.”
Q: But refusing to knock down the are-you-running-for-president question is a good way to sell books, right?
Bush: “It’s an honest answer to a question that I’ve gotten every time I’m in the public. I’m asked this all the time. I’m asked this long before the book came out. Last year I gave 138 speeches. I’m not living in a cocoon here. I’m interacting with lots of people. I answer this question the same way all the time.”
Q: But last year, you said you weren’t running for office and, in doing so, you essentially implied you could be more straightforward with people.
Bush: “That was last year. This cycle comes. There’s a new set of question. Last year, it was why didn’t you run for 2012? That was the question then. Then, on the first Wednesday of November the question is: ‘Well why haven’t you decided? When are you going to announce you’re running in 2016?’ There’s this obsession about this in Washington World. Everything is viewed through that lens. I just assumed this book might be viewed from the intent of it. The intent was to shape policy going forward. I accept responsibility for that.”
Q: Why don’t you lance the boil and say you’d never run against Rubio. Would you?
Bush: “No. I can’t imagine that. I don’t know. He’s such a great guy….. Marco’s stepped up incredibly well. We’re close friends. This whole People Magazine-whatever-you-call it, it’s really kind of, you know, childish. It’s juvenile, untrue.”