Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush for the first time Tuesday shared his version of a private meeting held last year with former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying he allayed concerns about his family history by touting his gubernatorial record.
A Washington Post article published online Sunday quoted Romney detailing a Jan. 22 meeting at the former nominee's Utah home.
Romney told Bush about the private polls that showed him performing well in the early voting states. “It’s opened up a door that I didn’t think would be open to me,” he recalled telling Bush.
Romney also said he confronted Bush with his fears about his candidacy: “Jeb, to be very honest, I think it’s very hard for you to post up against Hillary Clinton and to separate yourself from the difficulty of the W. years and compare them with the Clinton years.” He said Bush responded by saying that “he was going to make his campaign about the future, not about the past.”
“I didn’t say anything at that point,” Romney recalled. “But as he left, I said to myself, ‘Gosh, in my opinion, it’s not going to be as easy to make that separation as I think he gives the impression it will be.’ One of the few things I predicted that turned out to be true.”
Bush, a former governor of Florida, declined several requests by The Post to share his version of events.
Appearing Tuesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," he insisted that he has the best chance of defeating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in November.
"I think you need to make the case that I could beat Hillary Clinton," he said. "The conversation with Mitt Romney brought back, you know — a private conversation — brought back how I would have answered that. Which is, I have a proven record, you cannot beat Hillary Clinton, who has no record or a record of failure, with someone who doesn’t have a record at all. And that was the case I made to Mitt. That’s the case I made to you all and to people here in New Hampshire. I have a proven record, a conservative record that brings people toward our cause rather than push them away."
Bush has spent nearly two months squarely focused on criticizing the record of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, calling him "unhinged" and a "bully." But on Tuesday, he conceded that Trump's strategy is successful.
"Whatever Donald Trump’s doing is working, clearly. But here’s the deal: He’s not going to win Iowa," he said on MSNBC.
Asked whether his older brother, former president George W. Bush, should also speak out against Trump, Jeb Bush said: "I think that’s my job. You’ve got to take on the bully head-on, and that’s what I’m doing."
"Everyone else is in the witness-protection program," he added. "Look, you’ve got to stand up to the guy. ... I’ve been a conservative all my adult life, and that’s what I’m fighting for, is to make sure that the conservative cause is allowed to actually govern."
Bush is scheduled to hold seven public campaign appearances across New Hampshire over the next three days. The Granite State remains his must-win stop, but it's also a critical state for other Republican candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. That's why a super PAC supporting Bush's bid, Right to Rise, is spending roughly $10.5 million in the next five weeks running attack ads against all three rivals.