Questions about the war in Iraq trailed Jeb Bush on his trek through Iowa on Saturday, as the likely presidential candidate struggled to move beyond a difficult week.
In his first stop of the day, a town hall event at a Loras College, a voter sought to offer Bush a reprieve, saying he watched the Fox News interview where the candidate now says he botched a question about Iraq, and he did not see what all the fuss was about.
“I obviously didn’t either,” Bush said. “But I misstepped, for sure. I answered a question that wasn’t asked.”
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Every campaign comes with errors and gaffes, and Bush’s jumble of responses this week about whether he would have invaded Iraq was as much a learning experience for the prospective candidate as it was for his campaign-in-waiting. His staff got a valuable lesson in the importance of cleaning up gaffes before they dominate an entire week of news coverage, while Bush practiced walking the line between respecting his brother, former President George W. Bush, while distancing himself from his brother’s policies.
“We’re all going to make mistakes,” Bush told reporters in Iowa City. “If you’re looking for a perfect candidate, he probably existed 2,000 years ago.”
Still, it’s clear Bush can’t easily escape the Iraq issue.
Jeff Lenhart, a Dubuque resident who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, said he has been let down by the GOP on issues ranging from the Iraq War to health care, and is now a Democrat. He came to Saturday’s event with one mission: to force Bush to answer for a war that left thousands of American soldiers dead and is regarded by many as a mistake.
But after days of flailing, Bush finally seemed to know what he wanted to say on Iraq when pressed by Lenhart. He spoke freely about the faulty intelligence that led to the war and security flaws along the way. “They made mistakes,” Bush said. “My brother acknowledges that. I acknowledge that.”
He added: “I’m proud of my brother. He did what he thought was right.”
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It’s the personal toll of war – the soldiers who died, the phone calls Bush made to their families when he was governor – that he says tied him in knots over the last few days and made him appear unprepared for the most predictable of questions on the stump.
“War is incredibly tough,” Bush said. But he commended his brother for his “extraordinary” bond with those who served.
“If we have a different view on this, I respect you for that,” Bush said. “But all of us – all of us – need to be respectful of the sacrifice that the men and women in uniform have done to keep us safe.”
Bush didn’t win Lenhart’s vote on Saturday, but by the end of his tribute to the troops, even the Democrat was clapping.