MASON CITY, Iowa – A person’s religion, or lack of one, should not matter in someone’s quest for the presidency, Jeb Bush said Monday, further weighing in on controversy generated by fellow Republican candidates in their remarks about Muslims.
“I don’t think that religion should be a criterion for being president, that there should be some kind of exclusion based on one’s faith, or the lack of faith, frankly,” the former Florida governor told reporters after a town-hall campaign appearance.
GOP frontrunner Donald Trump last week failed to correct an audience member at a New Hampshire rally who said there was a Muslim “problem” in this country, and that President Obama was one himself. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson told NBC this weekend that he had no reason to doubt Obama’s Christian faith, but that he personally could not support the idea of a Muslim president.
Bush had previously said Trump had erred by not correcting his questioner, and said Monday the whole issue was needlessly divisive. “Frankly I don’t think it’s very productive for the conversation,” Bush said of Carson’s statements. “But he’ll express his views and defend his views. I don’t have to necessarily have a view on what he’s saying. I just gave you mine.”
Bush’s appearance in the real-life model for “River City” in the “Music Man” musicals came just minutes after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced he was dropping out of the presidential race. Bush praised both Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had earlier dropped out, for being actual leaders, rather than merely “yapping” about it – a not-so-veiled reference to the senators and former senator also seeking the GOP nomination.
Bush later laughed when asked if he has also considered dropping out, as Walker suggested others of his rivals do to make it easier for those remaining to defeat Trump. “No, no, a thousand times no,” Bush said. “We have a plan to win. I’m in it for the long haul. Things are going great.”
Bush took 10 questions from the crowd of about 300. Most were policy questions like Iran or student loan debt, but Bush also fielded one about his favorite presidents. He answered that while he loved his father and his brother – the last two Republican presidents – he also admired James Polk, because of how Polk managed to accomplish those things he promised he would do and then retired after a single term.
“He said what he would do, he did what he said he was going to do, and he left,” Bush said, and added that he, too, would leave after a single term if he could accomplish everything he wants to do.
Bush began the day in Houston with a speech to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He has three campaign events in eastern Iowa Tuesday before heading to Washington, D.C., in time to attend Wednesday’s papal mass.