Jeb Bush isn’t going to be nice forever, and he thinks NSA criticism endangers the country.
The former governor said as much to a home-state crowd in an opulent Disney World ballroom on Tuesday, hinting that his soon-to-be campaign is gearing up to get dirty.
And the crowd loved it.
In a question-and-answer session after his speech at Gov. Rick Scott’s Economic Growth Summit in Orlando, one attendee asked Bush how he and his fellow presidential contenders would compete in the primary “without tearing each other apart.”
“The money’s going to be spread very thin over a lot of candidates,” the questioner continued.
Bush answered by poking fun at the size of the Republican field.
“Look, it’s a rambunctious deal, we got 75 people running,” he said, to audience laughs. “I haven’t checked how many people announced today but it’s a—it’s a big deal, it’ll be competitive, there’s going to be some elbows and knees under the boards here. This isn’t tiddly-winks we’re playing.”
A recent Business Insider headline—which Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted out on Monday—blared that the former governor “is more ruthless than he looks,” a perception that today’s comments could undergird.
He certainly didn’t play tiddly-winks when criticizing opponents of warrantless bulk surveillance.
When another attendee asked him about how to balance concerns about privacy and national security, he defended the Patriot Act.
“We’re safer today because of the Patriot Act,” he said. “And this notion that somehow—you create a false narrative, that you say, as many on the left, and a few on our team but mostly on the left have said that our civil liberties are being violated—it’s not true!”
He nearly yelled those last three words.
“There’s no evidence of it!” he continued. “You can say it all you want, but if it’s not true, then why would we give up something that has kept us safe?”
He added that “of course we need safeguards,” and that those safeguards are the FISA courts.
“I’m deeply troubled by this,” he continued, “because there is this narrative that has been built up right now that is quite dangerous for the homeland.”
He then said that if there was a terrorist attack, then “the very same people that now are saying that our civil liberties are being violated are going to be critical of the people that said, Why don’t you keep us safe.”
Then he paused.
“I’m upset about it,” he concluded.
He couldn’t have been upset about how his speech went, though.
It was bookended by standing ovations—the only speaker all day to bring the crowd to their feet.