Jeb Bush met a chilly morning in South Carolina with the warmth of optimism.
Bush told a crowd of about 500 at the Pavilion inside Sun City Hilton Head that he hopes to capture the same magic in South Carolina as his father and brother, who won the state’s Republican primaries in 1988 and 2000, respectively.
“South Carolina has been good to the Bushes in the past, and I’m hoping and praying it will be that way again,” he said to a round of cheers and applause.
Bush’s short speech Wednesday — a day after he finished fourth in New Hampshire’s Republican primary — at the retirement community focused mostly on the U.S. military and veterans issues, but he also harangued Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Bush said Trump, the businessman and leading Republican candidate, has insulted “about 90 percent of all the people in the country.” He also took issue with Trump’s use of profanity.
“Unless I’m caught by a camera I didn’t see, I’m not going to use profanity,” he said. “If I did, the first call I get is going to be from Barbara Bush.”
Trump won the New Hampshire primary with 35 percent of the votes, according to the Associated Press. In addition to Trump, Bush trailed John Kasich and Ted Cruz in the Granite State.
Unless I’m caught by a camera I didn’t see, I’m not going to use profanity. If I did, the first call I get is going to be from Barbara Bush.
Bush criticized Clinton for changing her political positions and for sponsoring little legislation while serving as a senator from New York.
“This woman can’t be trusted,” Bush said.
Bush said he would not veer from his conservative principles and would tamp spending, as he did while governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He repeated a line he has used on the stump and in campaign commericals, noting politicians in Florida called him “Veto Corleone” after he axed 2,500 line items from a state budget. He also mentioned Trump’s history of bankruptcy filings.
“We need to send ‘Veto Corleone’ to Washington,” Bush said. “I’m giving you a reality-based answer, not a reality TV answer. I was the most conservative, reform-minded governor in the country. I feel the looming presence of my mother again. I’m bragging.”
He opened the event by joking about the cold, as temperatures were in the mid-30s at the start of the event in the open-air pavilion.
“I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to South Carolina, I can take my coat off,’ but when I woke up this morning, oh my goodness gracious,” he said. “With the wind chill, it’s colder here than in (New Hampshire).”
In her introduction of Bush, Republicans of Sun City Hilton Head president Diane Moreno joked the community was “like a post office,” willing to brave the elements to see the former Florida governor.
“Neither wind nor snow will keep us from our task,” she said.
When you pull back, you create voids, and those voids are filled with nastiness.
Bush was accompanied at the event by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who returned to his home state from New Hampshire to support Bush. Graham kicked off the event by telling the crowd he had “brought the next president of the United States with me,” revealing that the two had first spoken in August about strategies for ISIS.
Graham, who waged his own campaign for the GOP nomination, said after the event he would support Bush wherever he was needed.
“I could either sit on the sideline or get back in the fight,” said Graham, who exited the race before the primaries. “Well, I decided to get back in the fight.”
Graham also got in a shot at Trump, telling the crowd “we don’t need to replace incompetent with crazy.”
Bush said he would look to build up the military and limit re-deployments for service members.
“Most of you are my age,” he said to laughter. “We all lived through the ’80s. Peace through strength.”
In fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bush promised “heads will roll,” leading to a round of applause. He continued with a story about a veteran who was issued a death certificate despite not actually being dead, one he told several times in New Hampshire in recent weeks.
“It’s like going into a Kafka novel and never leaving,” he said of the veteran and his struggle with the VA.
Bush was the first of three Republican presidential candidates to visit Sun City this week. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, will hold a town hall meeting Thursday morning, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will hold a town hall Friday afternoon.