Bush plays Trump card to revive faltering campaign

CONTOOCOOK (New Hampshire) • Mr Jeb Bush was halfway through an early morning town hall-style event on Saturday when he paused, announcing he had something he wanted to get off his chest.

"Donald Trump is a jerk," Mr Bush said, seemingly unprompted, to applause. "You cannot insult your way to the presidency," he said. "You can't disparage women, Hispanics, disabled people... This country is far better than that.

"The idea that he's actually running for president and insulting people is deeply discouraging, to be honest with you, and I think we should reject that out of hand. I hope you'll reject it by voting for me, but a guy like that should not be the front-running candidate of our great party."

Mr Bush exhaled with a laugh: "I gave myself therapy there."

Therapy, maybe - but also a deliberate move by Mr Bush, whose strategy to save his faltering campaign now involves attacking Mr Trump, forcefully and frequently. The approach was on display in last Tuesday's Republican debate in Las Vegas, where Mr Bush repeatedly needled Mr Trump, irritating the real estate magnate.

Nonetheless, Mr Bush still sits in single digits in the polls, and New Hampshire has become a must-win state for him. He must beat, or at the very least tie, his rivals for the party's more moderate base - Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Governor John R. Kasich of Ohio and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida - in the primary if he hopes to reinvigorate his campaign.

Mr Bush plans to compete seriously in New Hampshire, with a schedule that has him in the north of the state before Christmas, and back again for several days before New Year's Day.

Last Saturday, Mr Bush planned a packed schedule of four townhall-style meetings, intended to show his stamina and resolve. He has still been unable to shake the "low-energy" stigma Mr Trump put on at him this summer.

At an event in New Hampshire, a voter asked Mr Bush: "How can you bring the passion that you're showing today more broadly to your campaign?" Mr Bush said he hoped voters will see him up close as the "hardworking guy" who is going to "out-campaign people".

"There's a mythology built up that somehow I don't do this every day. I don't know where it started and I don't know why it exists," Mr Bush said. "Don't worry about the energy thing. I can outwork everybody running, and I'm doing it."

Mr Bush also fielded questions on issues, including college affordability, adding that he planned to outline a plan to fix the problem of student loan debt in roughly three weeks, and how to restore America's position of strength in the world.

But the former Florida governor seemed determined to keep his focus on Mr Trump, who was busy last Friday posting Twitter messages aimed at Mr Bush. And last Saturday, at a rally in Iowa, Mr Trump again targeted Mr Bush, calling him an "embarrassment" and noting he was "very close to zero" in the polls.

In New Hampshire, Ms Jennifer Morrell, 54, said she liked Mr Bush as her second choice, after Mr Mike Huckabee, because she thought he would be good on foreign policy and national security.

But she added that she had sometimes cringed as she watched Mr Bush struggle as a candidate.

"I'm kind of embarrassed for him, and I think it's kind of sad, because I don't think he'll get elected, either because there's just been too many Bushes or because of his performance as a campaigner," she said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'Bush plays Trump card to revive faltering campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe