Jeb Bush Embraces Deep-Fried Iowa and Gets Uncomfortable Questions in Return

The Republican presidential candidate got some support at the Iowa State Fair, but he’s finding it tricky to separate himself from his family.

Jeb Bush flips a pork chop on a grill at the Iowa Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. 
National Journal
Michael J. Mishak
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Michael J. Mishak
Aug. 14, 2015, 1:10 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Strug­gling in the polls here and fa­cing skep­ti­cism about his com­mit­ment to the state’s first-in-the-na­tion caucuses, Jeb Bush went full Hawkeye Fri­day, grin­ning and glad-hand­ing through a four-hour tour of the famed Iowa State Fair and its everything-on-a-stick cul­ture. He sampled a deep-fried Snick­ers bar, ate a pork chop on a stick, drank a morn­ing Bud­weiser in the beer tent — and de­bated busi­ness reg­u­la­tions with a man who claimed to be the world’s lead­ing au­thor­ity on pea­cocks.

Fair­go­ers loved it, shout­ing his name from tract­or-pulled trams and break­ing through the hov­er­ing me­dia horde for hugs, auto­graphs, and selfies. But for all the good will the son and broth­er of two U.S. pres­id­ents earned among Iow­ans, there were clear signs that his fam­ily’s polit­ic­al dyn­asty and his mod­er­ate po­s­i­tions on im­mig­ra­tion and edu­ca­tion are com­plic­at­ing his path to vic­tory here.

After pitch­ing him­self as a com­pet­ent man­ager and uni­fy­ing lead­er who could fix a gov­ern­ment run amok, Bush soon faced tough ques­tions from a morn­ing crowd about George W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One wo­man asked him if he sup­por­ted his broth­er’s un­suc­cess­ful plan to privat­ize So­cial Se­cur­ity. “I don’t,” he said, but quickly ad­ded that “it would have made sense back then. Now we’re way bey­ond that.” (Bush said he wants to “pre­serve and pro­tect” the pro­gram for cur­rent re­cip­i­ents and over­haul it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions by rais­ing the re­tire­ment age and chan­ging in­come re­quire­ments.)

A minute later, when Bush turned to the Middle East and said, “The Ir­aqis want our help,” a man in­ter­rup­ted him, shout­ing that troops were with­drawn in 2011 as part of a deal his broth­er signed as pres­id­ent with the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment, which strongly op­posed the con­tin­ued pres­ence of U.S. forces.

“We didn’t have to get out in 2011,” Bush said.

“Your broth­er signed the deal,” the man shouted back.

An­oth­er man asked about Paul Wolfow­itz, the former deputy sec­ret­ary of De­fense in the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and one of the ar­chi­tects of the Ir­aq War. Bush said that Wolfow­itz was one of his for­eign policy ad­visers, but he ad­ded, “I get most of my ad­vice from a team that we have in Miami, Flor­ida.”

Nev­er­the­less, Bush seemed flustered, ac­know­ledging the tough task of find­ing ad­visers not con­nec­ted to the ad­min­is­tra­tions of his fath­er and broth­er.

“If they have any ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence, they’ve had to deal with two Re­pub­lic­an ad­min­is­tra­tions,” he said. “Who were the people that were pres­id­ents. “¦ I mean, this is kind of a tough game for me to be play­ing, to be hon­est with you.”

“I’m my own per­son,” he con­cluded, ur­ging the crowd to look at the for­eign policy speech he de­livered earli­er in the week.

His loudest ap­plause dur­ing the ap­pear­ance at The Des Moines Re­gister‘s Soap­box stage came when he cri­ti­cized the nuc­le­ar agree­ment between Ir­an and six world powers. “No deal would be bet­ter than a bad deal,” Bush said to cheers.

Bush pressed on, don­ning a red ap­ron to grill pork bur­gers with Iowa Gov. Terry Brand­stad.

As Bush broke a sweat and pledged his love for Iow­an fare (it’s bet­ter than New Hamp­shire’s food, he said), Janice Sing­let­ary, a teach­er and likely Re­pub­lic­an caucus­go­er, watched from be­hind a fence. She said she wants “fresh blood” in the White House and likes Don­ald Trump. “An­oth­er Clin­ton-Bush cam­paign, I’m not so sure,” she said. “We need someone new in there.”

Oth­ers were im­pressed, say­ing Bush’s fam­ily was a bo­nus.

“He comes from a really good fam­ily, and he has really good val­ues as a res­ult of that,” said Jason Mikesell, a Re­pub­lic­an who snagged Bush’s auto­graph. “Jeb gov­erned a huge state and did very well with that, and I think he’d be a great pres­id­ent.”

That said, Mikesell is also eye­ing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Iow­ans peppered Bush with ques­tions as he made his way up the main con­course, and he leaned in­to cri­ti­cism of his stance on im­mig­ra­tion — de­fend­ing his sup­port for leg­al status for im­mig­rants in the coun­try il­leg­ally but also em­phas­iz­ing tough­er en­force­ment on the bor­der and in the work­place.

By the time he reached the beer tent, the stiff and some­times awk­ward can­did­ate many voters saw at last week’s Re­pub­lic­an de­bate was gone. Hoist­ing a Bud­weiser, Bush pro­claimed, “God Bless Amer­ica,” and worked the pa­vil­ion.

In­side, Chris McLinden, a Re­pub­lic­an busi­ness­man, said he had been con­sid­er­ing sup­port­ing Carly Fior­ina, who called to ask for his help, but signed on as a county chair­man for Bush be­cause “he has the in­fra­struc­ture to go fur­ther than the Iowa caucuses.” “I’ve seen oth­er people try to catch light­ning in a bottle” and then they col­lapse, he said. “He can go the dis­tance.”

When it was all over, Bush asked for more, turn­ing from the black Chevy Tahoe wait­ing to whisk him to the air­port and wad­ing back in­to the crowd for more cam­paign­ing.

At the fast­ball cage, he fired two pitches: 43 mph and 47 mph. His prize? An in­flat­able bat pat­terned with $100 bills. It was a fit­ting, if in­con­veni­ent, souven­ir for a can­did­ate who spent the day talk­ing about in­come in­equal­ity while also lead­ing the Re­pub­lic­an field in su­per PAC fun­drais­ing.

Bush pledged to re­turn to Iowa — of­ten.

“At this point last time around, Michele Bach­mann was win­ning the Re­pub­lic­an polls in Iowa,” he told re­port­ers. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

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