"For him, it’s all about him, but he has tapped into – because he’s so different than people in public life – he’s tapped into this anger and angst that Washington’s not working, I totally get it,” Bush told the crowd. “And I respect the fact that, look, this is a guy that’s the front-runner, he should be treated like the front-runner, not as some alternative universe to the political system.”
Bush visited the home of the largest naval base on the globe the morning after announcing the endorsement of former House majority leader Eric Cantor, who sat silently during the hour-long event.
Cantor, who shocked the nation by falling to a tea-party backed candidate last summer, said after the event that the country — and party — are at a crossroads, with Bush on one side and Trump on the other.
"There is an enormous, broad support for Jeb Bush, and I look forward to continuing to build that," Cantor told reporters. "We’re at a turning point as a country, we’re at a turning point for our party, it is time for the Republican Party to unite around strong conservative principles that Jeb Bush has stood for in Florida, that I have fought for here in Virginia and throughout the country."
The Bush campaign has said Cantor will advise the candidate on foreign policy matters. His connection to Virginia, where he is still a popular figure among establishment -- as well as a cautionary tale, can help Bush in a key swing state.
Speaking to a crowd of about 220 here, Bush called Virginia and Florida "political cousins."
"You will see me here in the Hampton Roads area a lot because Virginia is hugely important and you don’t win Virginia unless you win this region of your great state," he said. "The commonwealth of Virginia is hugely important in the general election as well."
Bush, who rarely discusses Trump by name, ticked off what he called proof that the real-estate mogul is not a true conservative, from his stance on single-payer health care, to his former support for Hillary Rodham Clinton, to his costly immigration plan.
Asked how he would be a "great wartime president," Bush said: "I am realistic. I see the world as it is not as I would like it to be, not just the Iran issue, but terrorism in general."
The town hall coincided with foreign policy speeches from rivals Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. But Bill Solt, 70, a retired Navy veteran who lives in Virginia Beach and is from Florida, said he is already committed to Bush and has a particular dislike for Trump.
"The guy in the red hat -- an obvious jerk," he said to Bush during the event, referring to the campaign hat that Trump often wears. "I don’t want him answering the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning, that’s my first concern. But he has tapped into this silent majority, and he’s done it an a very raucous manner."
In talking to reporters later, Cantor said "there’s a lot of talk on the part of Mr. Trump. It is all about him."
But, Cantor acknowledged, Trump "talks about the kind of things that strike the anger in people. And there is some serious frustration and anger and fear out there. That focus is what I think creates the attention. It’s real for sure."
Cantor, vice chairman of a Wall Street investment bank, added that he’s all in for Bush: "I am not here to go back into political office, believe me."