Jeb Bush opened up with some rare campaign insight Tuesday night, talking in personal terms about the dizzying array of “pressures” that candidates face “to change who you are.”
“You know ‘do this, do that, be different,’” the Republican presidential candidate said, mimicking suggestions of consultants. “Whatever it is, there’s all sorts of advice. It’s well intended. I’m not being critical. There’s a lot of it.’”
In his case, Bush said he was advised to stop wearing his glasses — a suggestion he happily ignored. (If he wins, Bush would be the first president to wear glasses full time since Harry S. Truman.)
“I can’t see without glasses,” Bush said with exasperation, drawing laughs from the audience as he spoke at a town hall in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “I’m not going to take off my stinking glasses.”
Aiming to appear authentic, politicians rarely reveal the image-conscious side of their campaigns. But Bush did so Tuesday for that exact reason, showing some vulnerabilities in an effort to convince voters of his authenticity.
Asked later by reporters why he was told to remove his glasses, Bush joked that perhaps it was their combination with his “bushy eyebrows” that turned people off.
“I mean we have committees formed to deal with this. I have people all across the country worried about how I look,” he added with sarcasm. “I think I look pretty damn good.”
But his answer went deeper than looks. It all started when a voter – a teacher who was asking a question on behalf of a student – argued that modern political candidates are often marketed and sold like products. His student wanted to know whether Bush felt stifled or inhibited while he and those around him have been building a brand.
Bush conceded that there is pressure to be different and said that he’s learned to “bite my tongue when the advice is kind of wacky.” But when he’s really tempted to change, he has a voice in his head that sounds a lot like the matriarch of the Bush family.
“Barbara Bush is behind me—the looming figure that all children have—and she’s about ready to whack me across the head if I try to be something I’m not,” he said.
One of the reasons that candidates with no experience in elected office have surged to the top of the polls, he argued, is because of deep disaffection among voters of politicians who aren’t being honest.
But the former governor insisted that he won’t shy away from his time in public office, even if it makes him appear more like an establishment candidate. Rather, he has tried to use — increasingly so — his record as governor as an example of how he would also “disrupt” Washington, just as candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have pledged to do.
It was a point he especially tried to drill home last week in Iowa, repeatedly vowing to shake things up and turn the nation’s capital “upside down” – a noticeable uptick in his rhetoric against Washington.
He has since, however, toned down the warrior language after a series of articles noted that his new messaging appeared to be an effort to compete with the outsider candidates.
But his stump speech still offers impassioned promises to bring “civility” back to Washington and break past the gridlock.
“The simple fact is you got to have some experience to do the things that you’re asking a president to do,” he said Tuesday. “You can’t just show up.”