STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is in a street fight. The Republican has been hammered by Donald Trump on Twitter. Bush's allies are lashing out at other candidates with TV ads. Amid all of this, Bush sat with us in a Boston hotel for a more expansive discussion.
JEB BUSH: Is it OK if I complete a sentence in the English language with adjectives and adverbs or are we going Twitter kind of...
INSKEEP: (Laughter) Anything you want. Go to Spanish if you want to do that.
We did complete sentences about his rivals and, as we hear elsewhere in today's program, about his struggle to redirect the Republican Party. We also talked of a major issue of this year - the threat from ISIS. Earlier this year, Jeb Bush gave a speech offering a strategy to fight the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. He dismissed President Obama's strategy as incremental, adding force bit by bit.
What did you mean by that and what's wrong with it?
BUSH: Well, he hasn't laid out a strategy. In fact, until recently, he admitted - in the last year and three months he's admitted twice that we didn't have a strategy. He made the mistake of talking about containing ISIS as though that would be an effective strategy. And then shortly after that the tragedy of Paris took place. And incrementally you can continue to see it. There's been some success. This week, there was a successful airstrike that killed one of the high-ranking ISIS operatives. That's good news. But a strategy would require explaining to the American people what the objectives are, how we would go about doing it, doing it in a transparent way, I think. We view this as a threat to our national security. Not to overstate it, but it is clearly a threat in - particularly in the form that it exists as a caliphate. It wins each day that it exists.
INSKEEP: I think if the president were sitting here he might - had you read your speech where you laid out a number of steps against ISIS - he might argue that he is already doing a number of those steps, such as bombing ISIS or trying to train some local forces on the ground. But that you just want to do them incrementally more.
BUSH: Well, I'd say it's more than incrementally. If you, for whatever reason, you can't embed our troops inside of the Iraqi military, which other countries have done - if you can't directly arm the Kurds, which I think they are deserving of that support - if you - now, grant it, the president appears to his - we the United States appears to have begun the process of re-engaging with the Sunni tribal leaders that lost all confidence in the United States after the abandonment of Iraq. And so I think we're - the incremental part of this is that as he sees the threat grow he's moving in the right direction. But it isn't a strategy. A strategy would require a comprehensive reproach.
INSKEEP: Is this a serious enough threat that American lives should be on the line? You have laid out, for example, forward air controllers who would help guide airstrikes. Those are people who might be killed - Americans.
BUSH: Yes, it is a - it is a serious threat. When you have four million refugees in Syria and - four million in camps, literally, you know, millions at a time in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the destabilizing impact that has on those countries and the potential of a breeding ground for Islamic jihadist activity for a long, long while, that's a serious threat. I view it as a threat because it's a long-term threat against Western civilization. They effectively have declared war on us. I don't - you know, I think sometimes the president infers, well, it's not a threat because they're not going to invade us. Well, they could destabilize our way of life in a really serious way.
INSKEEP: Are they an existential threat?
BUSH: They are. They are. And if anybody doesn't think that they would use whatever means possible to do us harm, I think they're naive. And, look, you saw it in place - I mean, the Los Angeles school district was closed for two days because of a potential threat coming from an email. We're, you know, part of the job of being president...
INSKEEP: Is that a sign of an existential threat, though, or is that a sign of overreacting?
BUSH: Well, I was going to complete the sentence that part of the job of a president is to identify, distinguish between the two. Make sure the people know that we view it as a threat that we're - because people are scared and they're legitimately so. Take action accordingly. And then you're going to lessen people's fears on the day-to-day activities. We can't be paralyzed in place. And that's where we are today.
INSKEEP: At the same time, you said let's not overstate the threat from ISIS. Are some of your rivals for the Republican nomination playing up the threat from ISIS for political reasons?
BUSH: Well, I mean, Trump - clearly banning all Muslims would actually be so counterproductive in our efforts to destroy ISIS that it's foolhardy. I mean, it's beyond ridiculous. It's quite dangerous. So he's clearly playing that card. Talking about carpet bombing, that might be an overstatement of a strategy. But it is a threat. Look, don't - I don't want you to hear me and think that I'm discounting this threat. I just - what I'm saying is the president actually talks about it as though it's a law enforcement exercise in some ways. And I think it's bigger than that.
INSKEEP: What did you think, Governor, when Donald Trump called for banning Muslims from entering the country for a time? You called him unhinged. And then surveys came out and it was revealed that majorities of Republican primary voters said they agreed with him.
BUSH: Well, in a month from now, they won't. That's the point. The point is that we're living in this reality TV kind of political environment where he fills the space by saying outrageous things. People, based on their emotion, will express support for the sentiment, not necessarily the specifics 'cause there are none. And then he'll backtrack and he'll move on to the next thing. And he fills the space.
INSKEEP: You think if another poll was done in a month or two people would completely change their view on that issue.
BUSH: I think that the - I think the emotion of the here and now will subside. Are people scared about the national security interests of our country being violated because of a lax immigration system or a visa waiver program that wasn't designed for people being radicalized? Yeah, they're scared. And the job of a president, or a candidate for that matter, isn't to scare them more. It's to give them solutions. And that's what I'm trying to do.
INSKEEP: That's former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Now, when he spoke of waiting for the emotions of the here and now to subside, he could almost have been talking of his entire campaign. The Republican is determined to last long enough in the race that voters give him a second look. Elsewhere in today's program, Bush talks of his party's future.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And that's not all. While campaigning this year, Jeb Bush said he makes, quote, "really good guacamole." Campaign reporters, always hungry for new, have been seeking that recipe ever since. He gives it up, sort of, at npr.org.
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