MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – In a primary that already features a regular “kids table” debate, Jeb Bush stretched the concept further with a children-only town hall at a New Hampshire charter school.
The former Florida governor visited Founders Academy to talk about his record in Florida supporting charter schools like the one hosting the event, but the real highlight came afterward when Bush took a half hour of questions from students.
Dozens of middle schoolers raised their hands, waiting to pass on parents’ questions about issues like immigration and equal pay while tossing in some more unusual ones of their own.
One boy asked what it was like being raised by President George H.W. Bush. Bush described himself as being in awe of his accomplished father as a child.
“My dad was such an inspiration for me that whenever I made a mistake all he would have to say is ‘I’m disappointed in you’ and it would send me into a deep spiraling depression for days,” Bush said.
Another boy asked whether Bush would govern similarly to his brother, President George W. Bush.
“You got brothers? You got sisters? Are you the same as them?” he asked back.
“I rest my case!” he said with a smile and a shrug.
Bush started the event with his standard talking points from the trail, but it became clear pretty early that his wonkier lines might be over his audience’s head. After he answered a boy’s question about border security with a detailed prescription of surveillance drones, GPS technology, and an improved entry-exit visa system a girl stood up to ask a follow up.
“What’s a border?” she said.
“Have you been to Canada?” Bush asked. “That’s just north of here, by the way. A border is what separates countries.”
Another boy asked what he would do about “anchor babies” who were attracting illegal immigrants to America. Bush, who got into trouble with immigrant groups over his use of the phrase earlier this year, said the term was “supposed to be a pejorative” but that the solution was to better protect the border.
In general, Bush was unwilling to dumb down his answers for the students. Asked by one boy what the president does, he offered a detailed answer fresh out of a political science textbook.
“The president, unlike other countries where you have a prime minister and a king or a president and a prime minister, the president is both the prime minister and the president,” Bush said. “He’s the symbol of the country, he’s the leader of the country and he also runs the executive branch.”
The kids followed along with interest, though. There were many hands still in the air when he had to wrap up the event, and students mobbed him afterward to shake his hand and ask more questions.
Talking to kids can be tricky territory for even seasoned politician. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz garnered headlines in the state earlier after he told a 3-year-old “your world is on fire” – then reassured her that he and her mom would put it out. Bush asked students to pay attention in history class for parallels to the “scary Islamic terrorist threats” today, but generally kept things less dark.
Asked on behalf of one student’s father what he thought about the other candidates – three of whom have already visited the same school this cycle – Bush said, “I love them all!” to laughter before pulling back a bit.
“I wouldn’t say all – I don’t love them all,” he added. “They’re all good people, though.”
Bush, who released en e-book this week on his emails as governor of Florida, encouraged the students to reach out to him at his email@example.com address if they had anything else to add.
“Try it when you get home,” he said. “I promise I’ll respond to you.”