Jeb Bush zeroes in on Trump to aid campaign

Mr Jeb Bush stood out in Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, attacking Mr Donald Trump's fitness for the presidency. Mr Bush has been struggling in the polls in his White House bid.
Mr Jeb Bush stood out in Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, attacking Mr Donald Trump's fitness for the presidency. Mr Bush has been struggling in the polls in his White House bid.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

His team believes strategy will help set him apart from large Republican field

NEW YORK • Buoyed by an aggressive performance in Tuesday's Republican debate, Mr Jeb Bush is intensifying his strategy of attacking Mr Donald Trump's fitness for the presidency. This, his aides believe, will set him apart from the sprawling field just as voters begin to make up their minds in early voting states.

This plan has significant risks given how low Mr Bush, a former Florida governor, has fallen in polls and the fact that several other rivals, especially Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Chris Christie, are running ahead of him in those states.

Some analysts believe he should be trying to defeat the other rivals. But after much discussion, the Bush team has decided, at least for now, that the most effective way to convince voters of Mr Bush's seriousness is to highlight his barrage against Mr Trump, a real estate magnate, whom he repeatedly assailed during the debate in Las Vegas.

His team believes this will show a quality not always associated with the somewhat patrician Bush family: guts. On Thursday, the super PAC supporting Mr Bush released a new ad, "Tough Enough", that opens with the words, "One candidate tough enough to take on the bully", before cutting to an exchange between Mr Bush and Mr Trump from the debate.

Under this strategy, Mr Bush plans to make New Hampshire, the first primary state, his second home as the holidays approach, and to spend more than half his time there in the seven weeks before the Feb 9 primary.

He has little hope of prevailing in the more conservative Iowa caucuses on Feb 1, and his aides believe he must place in the top three in New Hampshire to convince his donors and supporters that his campaign is still viable.

His team recently began "the New Hampshire Project", an effort to raise US$1 million (S$1.41 million) by the end of the year for television ads in the state. And staff members for the super PAC supporting him have already knocked on more than 12,000 doors there, using tablets to update voters' information.

Mr Bush's campaign was cheered when Mr Trump, late in the debate, seemed to become upset at Mr Bush and a moderator under the heat of questioning. And the fact that other candidates still seem reluctant to tussle with Mr Trump has allowed Mr Bush to stand out as "the one that's standing up for the party and the country", his campaign's communications director Tim Miller said in a private conference call with donors after the debate.

Mr Bush's quip, "You're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency", was the most shared moment on Facebook on Tuesday.

Some donors are worried about the campaign's strategy, however. They have raised concerns about the value of a 15-minute documentary about Mr Bush that the super PAC backing him produced, and about whether that group is providing the support Mr Bush's floundering White House bid needs.

There is also a consensus, even among his supporters, that he is a far weaker candidate than expected. Even after his debate performance, some supporters noted that while he had held his own with Mr Trump, he had stumbled in his opening and closing statements - moments that should have been easy, uninterrupted chances to make his pitch.

"He's really positioning himself as the alternative to everybody in the race, but at this point, you have to be the alternative to the guys at the top," said Mr Jay Zeidman, a Bush donor based in Houston. "I don't think he's trying to take on Trump to prove anything other than he's the most serious guy, the most capable."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Jeb Bush zeroes in on Trump to aid campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe