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Jeb Bush to Lester Holt: Donald Trump's Surge in the Polls Is a 'Phenomenon'

"I was surprised that Donald Trump has surged. I think he's captured the deep frustration that people feel," Bush told NBC's Lester Holt.

Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush called Donald Trump's candidacy a "phenomenon," and said his outspoken rival has "appealed to people's anger" as he has skyrocketed to the top of the polls.

"I was surprised that Donald Trump has surged. I think he's captured the deep frustration that people feel," Bush told NBC News' Lester Holt in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Trump — who kicked off his campaign with controversial comments accusing Mexico of sending its rapists and murderers to the U.S. — has a large lead over the GOP presidential field, a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showed.

"I get the lack of rule of law, the sanctuary cities, the open borders," the former Florida governor said. "He's, in a very graphic way, appealed to people's anger about those things. And I think it's important to be respectful of that. Make the case that we can fix these things. And over time, the Trump phenomenon will either succeed or fail based on his proposals."

The Quinnipiac poll put Trump in the lead with 20 percent of Republican voters nationally supporting him, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13 percent and Bush at 10 percent.

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"You're not asking about Scott Walker or other real well-qualified candidates," Bush told Holt. "It's definitely a phenomenon."

Bush added that he had no qualms about going head-to-head with Trump or any other Republican candidates — including his protege, Marco Rubio — in presidential debates.

"I'm a big boy," he said. "I'll be showing up with my big boy pants on."

Bush's remarks came after he spoke a the National Urban League conference in Florida, and were part of a wide-ranging interview, in which he addressed a number of topics.

On Cuba:

Bush argued against lifting the Cuban embargo, something Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for during the Urban League forum.

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"There's nothing in return. When we've lifted embargoes, when we've granted diplomatic relations in the past to countries like Vietnam or China or other countries, we've gotten something significant in return," he said. "What have we gotten in return for Cuba? We've gotten nothing."

On race relations:

The GOP has a perception problem among minorities, Bush said, adding that by speaking to the primarily black audience at the Urban League, he hoped to change that. "I think it's important if you're going to aspire to be president of the United States, you should aspire to be president of all people," Bush said.


President Obama needs to "act on a strategy" before he leaves office, Bush said.

"We need a strategy that narrows their influence, where we regain our position in Iraq and Syria. Not to be boots on the ground, fighting the fight directly. But training [the Syrian Free Army]," he said.

On life outside of the campaign trail:

Bush also answered a series of rapid-fire questions about his likes and dislikes.

  • Early bird or night owl? "Early bird."
  • Workout of choice? "Swimming, if I can find a pool long enough."
  • What he's binge-watching right now? "I'm waiting for the third season of 'Lilyhammer.' That's my favorite show."
  • Food he craves the most? "Mexican food."