Jeb holds court at Republican confab

Jeb Bush is pictured. | Getty

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Despite his stumbles on the Iraq war, Bush’s campaign is eager to have him engage new audiences in unscripted conversations.


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. –After his most challenging week yet on the campaign trail, Jeb Bush found solace here at the tony Phoenician Resort not with a trip to the spa but by engaging in nearly five hours of closed door meetings Thursday with dozens of Republican National Committee members in town for the RNC’s quarterly meeting.

He got dressed down about his support for Common Core, was asked questions he couldn’t answer and even ended up making an impromptu appearance on the radio – in Guam. But according to committeemen and state party chairs who attended the private meetings, the face-time with Bush accomplished something significant: they got a much better feel for the candidate and were impressed by his command of a wide range of policy issues.

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“He understands and his team understands how important this audience is,” said Ryan Call, the former Colorado GOP chairman who sat in on a few 30-minute sessions. “Everyone who’s here has to go back to their states and they’re going to be asked, ‘Who did you hear from? How did he address the questions about Common Core? How did he talk about immigration policy? How did he address his record in Florida?’ And I think everybody who was here is going to be in a position to go back to their states and say he gave pretty good answers.”

Bush, who takes questions almost daily from the people who show up to his town halls and the gaggle of reporters following him from stop to stop, isn’t regarded as one of the better talkers in the deep GOP primary field. And yet, more and more, despite the week’s stumbles surrounding his position on the Iraq war, Bush’s campaign is eager to have him engage new audiences in unscripted conversations.

It’s even something he’s started touting this week in an effort to contrast himself with the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who’s taken roughly a dozen questions from the press in her first month as an official candidate. “You can’t script your way to the presidency,” Bush said Wednesday in Reno in what, for the moment, encapsulates his strategy.

While other candidates who came to Phoenix also held smaller meetings, Bush’s team reached out to all 168 RNC members to offer them time to take part in an afternoon of informal chats. Dozens of them accepted the invitation and joined Bush, as well as Sally Bradshaw, his longtime chief of staff, and David Kochel, his putative campaign manager.

According to accounts from more than a dozen RNC members who attended different half-hour meetings in groups of 20-25 people, Bush was often asked about his support for Common Core; as he does during public speeches, Bush emphasized his support for high academic standards but made clear he’d prefer to see states have the flexibility to set them.

While one committeeman described the exchange he witnessed as “cordial,” others said that Bush got a serious grilling on Common Core and other policy questions, ranging from immigration and education reform — staples of the Bush stump speech — to more esoteric matters like federal management of state lands, which came up during a meeting with Republicans from western states.

When Bush felt he didn’t know enough about the topic to give a thoughtful answer, he reportedly gave out his email address and encouraged people to send him more information. But in most cases, according to attendees, Bush showcased a substantive understanding of policy while presenting himself as a candidate who offers more substance than sizzle.

“It’s clear that he has a very in-depth grasp of a very wide variety of issues,” said James Brulte, the California GOP chairman. “Too many politicians talk in sound bites; and he’s able to go in depth. He actually wants to go in depth.”

In another meeting, David Sablan, the RNC committeeman from Guam, took out his cell phone, dialed a number and passed the phone to Bush. Just like that, he was on live on Guam’s most popular afternoon radio call-in show.

“Bush just took the phone and talked,” said Shawn Steele, an RNC committeeman from California. “That showed to me some spontaneity and not this carefully controlled bubble that some people worry about.”

While many Republicans found it maddening that Bush refused to immediately correct his answer to Megyn Kelly’s question Saturday about whether he’d have authorized the Iraq War “knowing what we know now” about intelligence failures, many of the RNC members who visited with him Thursday left the room more inclined to see his characteristic stubbornness as an asset.

“It was almost unapologetic in terms of saying ‘this is who I am and this is where I stand’ on issues like immigration and Common Core,” said Call. “Jeb is saying ‘this is who I am, this is what my record is and it’s not going to change’. He’s not like Scott Walker trying desperately to ingratiate himself to social conservatives all of the sudden. He’s just going to be who he is.”

Article source: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/jeb-scottsdale-republican-national-committee-members-117994.html