Jeb Bush is widely expected to announce a presidential run soon, but has mostly dodged inquiries about his family, saying he doesn't want to focus on hypothetical questions or draw direct contrasts with his brother or father, former president George H.W. Bush, because they ran and served during entirely different times.
But a voter in the crowd at a sports bar Thursday morning tried again. He noted that Bush has said he generally supports his brother's decision to launch the 2003 military invasion of Iraq, but then asked whether there is any "space" between them on other issues.
"Are there differences? Yeah, I mean, sure," Bush said. "I think that in Washington during my brother's time, Republicans spent too much money. I think he could have used the veto power -- he didn't have line item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C. That seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically. But having constraints on spending across the board during his time would have been a good thing."
Bush added that there are likely other things about his brother's presidency that he didn't like, but that he doesn't feel compelled "to go out of my way to criticize Republican presidents. Just call me a team player, here. It just so happens the last two Republican presidents happened to be my dad and my brother. But you'll never hear me complaining about Ronald Reagan, either. Every president makes mistakes -- the question is what do you learn from those mistakes? Past doesn't have to be prologue. You can learn from your predecessors in business and in life and certainly in politics."
After meeting with about 40 people at a Concord sports bar, Bush called into a local morning radio talk show and was asked whether attacks on his family bother him at all.
"My dad was president in 1988, my brother was president in 2000. The world is radically different in 2016," he told radio station WKXL. "If I get beyond the consideration to be a candidate, I'll be successful if I change the conversation about what the future holds if we fix a few things, share my heart, show what kind of person I am and talk about the leadership skills that are necessary to move our country forward. If it's all about the past, if it's all about whether the Bushes are going to break the Adams family [record] in terms of the number of people are president, that's a loser. I totally get that -- and I think people have a right to question me and I'll have every opportunity to convince them of who I am and what's in my heart."
Bush has one more lunchtime stop in Salem, N.H. on Thursday before flying to Oklahoma to address the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Friday.