MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has started, over the past few weeks, to ratchet up talk of a potential presidential run in 2016. If that’s the case, the reaction he received this weekend at a gathering of conservatives in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire was not what he was looking for.
Bush served as a punchline for — of all people — Donald Trump.
“You know, I heard Jeb Bush the other day,” Trump said during his speech at the Freedom Summit, hosted by the conservative groups Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity.
The crowd immediately started to boo and groan upon hearing Bush’s name. Trump then referenced comments Bush had made on immigration on April 6, when he said most people who cross the border illegally do so out of “love.”
“He was talking about people that come into this country illegally. They do it for love,” Trump said as the boos got louder.
“And I said, say it again. I didn’t get — that’s one I’ve never heard of before,” Trump said. “I’ve heard money, I’ve heard this, I’ve heard sex, I’ve heard everything! The one thing I never heard of was love. I understand what he’s saying, but, you know, it’s out there, I’ll tell you.”
The crowd laughed.
Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and younger son of President George H.W. Bush, wasn’t just a joke for Trump in New Hampshire this weekend. The man many describe as a potential front-runner for the GOP nomination was public enemy No. 1 at the Granite State’s conservative gathering.
An organiser told Business Insider that Bush was invited to the event but declined. With the sort of reception that the mere utterance of his name received here, it’s not hard to see why.
The two biggest hurdles for Bush with grassroots conservatives: his support for immigration reform and his support of the Common Core State Standards. Both were lightning rods among attendees in New Hampshire, and most of the invited speakers distanced themselves from these positions.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, generally thought of as the front-runner in New Hampshire, if he pursues a run at the Republican nomination, gave Bush’s comments a decidedly backhanded compliment, saying they were “well intentioned” and that you “can’t invite everyone who loves America or someone in America” into America.
Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who’s more sympathetic to immigration reform than many other conservatives — characterised Bush’s comments as going a bit too far. However, Huckabee said he thought Bush’s remarks had been blown out of proportion.
“I think what Jeb was trying to say was that many people come to the United States to look for opportunity,” Huckabee said. “I don’t personally support amnesty. I think we ought to have a secure border.”
Huckabee went on to urge conservatives to cut Bush “some slack.” Other speakers weren’t as sympathetic.
Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has been at the forefront of a small, vocal vanguard of House Republicans vehemently opposed to immigration-reform legislation, said he would “leave it to Jeb” to clarify what he meant. But King said he could think of a number of reasons why immigrants would cross the border illegally, and most of them have little to do with love. Some are for work — others for illegal purposes.
“If you extrapolate this, then who would not be exempt from the law if they could claim an ‘act of love’?” King told Business Insider. “That’s a pretty mushy legal theory.”
Bush didn’t get directly slammed for his support of the Common Core standards, but it was clear his stance on the issue will be a problem come 2016. Almost every speaker mentioned Common Core at the Freedom Summit. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the other leading GOP presidential hopeful at the summit, said the standards should be repealed.
“Get rid of Common Core and replace it with common sense!” said Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who denied she was “testing the waters” for a possible campaign.
One attendee named Sue, who didn’t want to provide her last name, said Bush’s problems go far beyond his most recognisable obstacle — his last name.
“You look at some of his positions and you say, ‘He just doesn’t really seem in step with us,'” she said.
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