Monday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offered MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace—who previously worked both for him and for his brother, President George W. Bush— his first public comments since Donald Trump became the Republican nominee-in-waiting.
One year ago, he was the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination himself. In his interview with Wallace, recorded "just down the street" from the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, he explained "conservatism is temporarily dead," how "the environment of reality TV" contributed to Trump's success, why he's "heartbroken" that he can't vote for either Trump or Clinton in November, and that he thinks Trump supporters will "feel really betrayed" in the end.
First, Wallace and Bush conducted a post mortem on his failed presidential campaign, particularly what went wrong for him in South Carolina. Bush said a number of factors, including Gov. Nikki Haley's endorsement of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and pope's visit to the U.S.-Mexico border for a mass and to discuss immigration, contributed to his loss there.
"He had every right to preach the gospel there," he said. "But I don't think he should be intervening. I don't know if he understood that he was intervening in our political affairs. That generated a lot of news and kind of stopped the momentum ...
"The news cycle was dominated by that. And Trump, you know, to his credit was very smart at exploiting these kind of opportunities. He's a master at understanding how the media works. More than anybody I've ever seen in politics. And kudos for him for kind of creating the environment and then manipulating the environment to this effect.
"The tragedy of this though is that there isn't going to be a wall built. And Mexico's not going to pay for it. And there's not going to be a ban on Muslims. None of that, this was all, like, an alternative universe that he created. The reality is that's not going to happen and people are going to be deeply frustrated and the divides will grow in our country. And this extraordinary country, still the greatest country on the face of the earth, will continue to stagger instead of soar. And that's the heartbreaking part of this is I think people are going to really feel betrayed."
Wallace asked if politicians have stopped talking to the American people, and if that had given rise to Trump's popularity. Bush said they were talking, but Americans don't believe what they say anymore, and that he's not entirely sure they were able to listen to what he had to say.
"They wanted their voice heard. They still do," he said. "They're angry for legitimate reasons. They latched onto the big horse. All of which is logical to me in retrospect. In the midst of it, it wasn't very logical."
Bush later praised Trump for finding a way to win the nomination outright in a very crowded field. But he then warned the nominee-in-waiting that there's a "big difference" between running for a party's nomination and running for president in the general election.
Wallace then asked him about how he intends to vote in the November election. Bush said he could respect others who see the 2016 election as a "binary decision" between Trump and Clinton, regardless of how they vote. But, he just wouldn't be able to bring himself to vote either way.
He also said there's a "threshold past which anybody that steps into the Oval Office must go," that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are able to pass. He said that assessment is based upon the "temperament, character, trustworthiness and integrity" of the candidates.
"This whole last two weeks with Hillary Clinton where she was indicted, effectively by the FBI director, you know, everything but the indictment took place, basically said that she lied," he said. "And there's a pattern there that is something that I can't get past. And Donald Trump does the exact same thing in a different way. We're in perilous times in our country and we need principled centered leadership."
"So what do you do?" he asked. "I mean if you believe like I do the presidency is sacred ground and you want a president that uphold the constitution and I don't believe that either one of the candidates fulfills that primary kind of objective, uh, I can't vote for either one of them.
"There's other people running. There's the libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld. I don't know. They don't get a lot of airtime yet. I can't vote for Donald Trump and I can't vote for Hillary Clinton. It breaks my heart. This is my first time in my adult life I'm confronted with this dilemma."
Bush said, he would have been "very comfortable" with Ohio Gov. John Kasich—who he thought "ran a great campaign"—or Rubio or Cruz. There were "a lot of people" he said he could've voted for, noting "the bar's not that high," and denying that he was holding out for a "perfect candidate."
"I'm not a perfect candidate for presidency of the United States and I wouldn't have been a perfect president," he said. "I'm not suggesting that. But you got to get past a certain threshold."
Bush also said he is "back in the private sector" now and for the foreseeable future. He said intends to spend his free time "involved in education reform and helping principle-centered conservatives get elected."
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