Jeb Bush goes full non-birther in Michigan while Donald Trump faces backlash
MACKINAC ISLAND, MI — Presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush criticized President Barack Obama with “civility” on Friday evening, acknowledging his talent, birthplace and religion.
“Barack Obama is a talented man — and by the way, he’s American, he’s Christian,” Bush told a friendly crowd during his keynote address at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, a biennial island gathering hosted by the Michigan GOP.
“His problem isn’t the fact that he was born here or what his faith is. His problem is he’s a progressive liberal that tears down anyone that disagrees with him.”
That critique of the president was also a not-so-subtle jab at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, whose past “birther” speculation was thrust back in the spotlight this week when hefailed to correct a supporter who called Obama a Muslim and non-American.
Four years ago, Trump spearheaded a campaign trying to force Obama to release his long-form birth certificate — “maybe it says he is a muslim,” he said in 2011 — suggesting he would send investigators to Hawaii, where the president was born.
While Trump has largely avoided the issue this cycle, critics have suggested he’s allowing his supporters to believe and promote a conspiracy theory that has beenthoroughly debunked.
“Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so!” Trump said Saturday morning on Twitter. “…If I would have challenged the man, the media would have accused me of interfering with that man’s right of free speech. A no win situation!”
Bush, while poking at Trump, also criticized the president. Since the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank Act and the federal stimulus, “nothing has happened” under Obama, Bush said, suggesting the president has used executive order powers that he doesn’t have.
“It I’m elected president, I will commit to you that I will never violate my conservative principles, but I will assume that someone who doesn’t agree with me isn’t a bad person,” Bush continued. “They might be wrong, but it’s my duty to convince them that my side of the argument is the better argument. We need to get back to that degree of civility before it’s too late in this country.”
Bush, who is well-positioned in Michigan but polling third behind Trump and fellow political outsider Ben Carson, was the first of five presidential candidates scheduled to speak at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Saturday morning speech was canceled, but U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are expected to deliver keynote addresses.