He said he would campaign for president “joyfully.” But Jeb Bush has apparently realized that happy talk won’t get him anywhere in the era of Donald Trump.
Bush took his gloves off Tuesday in Miami after his campaign released a new web video attacking Trump as a phony Republican. The video came on the heels of a Trump video Monday slamming Bush over immigration.
Speaking mostly in Spanish — which will do little to get him press coverage in early-primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire — Bush told reporters he decided to go after Trump “because he attacks me every day with barbarities.”
“The man is not conservative,” Bush said. “Besides, he tries to personalize everything. If you’re not totally in agreement with him you’re an idiot or stupid or don’t have energy or blah blah blah.
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“That’s what he does, and it’s not good, because there are millions of people who today think their future isn’t as it should be,” added Bush, whom Trump has repeatedly poked as “low energy.” Earlier Tuesday, Bush told Fox News he’s “fired up,” just not running a “campaign based on angst.”
The former Florida governor insisted he is playing the long game and will outlast the summer of Trump. The real-estate magnate has risen to the top of key public-opinion polls, followed by other non-politicians, as Bush has seen his numbers slip to single digits.
“We have to elevate the debate a bit, without a doubt,” Bush said in Miami, still speaking in Spanish and resorting to various sports metaphors. “This is a very long process. We have to remember that tomorrow’s not Election Day. We’re in the first inning, no? This is a marathon. So I have patience that in the long run we’re going to raise the debate to important topics for the great majority of voters.”
Polls show Trump’s popularity, though, isn’t based on issues or ideology. Republicans like that Trump “tells it like it is,” according to a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters released this week. Forty-one percent of Trump’s supporters consider him “moderate,” compared to 35 percent who label him “conservative.” (Ten percent called him “liberal” in the poll, and only 4 percent used the term “very conservative.”)
The Trump campaign declined to comment early Tuesday on the Bush campaign video, before Bush attended a town hall at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana. He fielded questions from high-school students, some of them so young that they were born around the time Bush moved into the Florida Governor’s Mansion in 1999.
Bush chose the school to talk about the voucher program he created as governor that gives corporations tax credits for funding students who want to attend a private or parochial school rather than a public one. Almost all the students at Bush’s event were Hispanic, and the room got particularly excited when Bush engaged in Spanish-language conversations. A teacher repeatedly referred to him as “Governor Jeb.”
He asked one girl, a senior, where she planned to go to college. She said she didn't know yet — and countered with a question about what the government could do about securing financial aid for students in the country illegally who might be unable to pursue professional careers because of their immigration status. Bush responded with his pitch for reforming the immigration system and giving so-called “DREAMers” brought into the country illegally by their parents a path to U.S. citizenship (others who qualify should earn “legal status,” he said).
Bush noted his wife, Columba, was born in Mexico — and that one of his daughters-in-law (nuera, one of the few words he stumbled on in Spanish) is Iraqi-Canadian. His young granddaughters, he said, are “Texan-Mexican-Canadian-Iraqi Americans.”
A boy asked Bush about his favorite food, and he said “Mexican,” endorsing a new restaurant, El Wapo Taco in Coral Gables, as “authentic.” He later posed for selfies with the students.
The optics worked well for diverse Miami, but that’s not where Bush is struggling with voters. His jabs at Trump won’t resonate as much in the rest of the country — and with Trump's supporters — because they were made in Spanish and are less likely to be translated and picked up by national English-language news outlets.
Once he was mobbed by reporters, Bush showed flashes of the politician Florida veterans remember from his days in Tallahassee. He pushed back at a reporter’s question of his use of the term “anchor babies” (”C’mon, man”) and refused to hit Chris Christie over Christie’s remark that visitors in the U.S. might be tracked like Fed-Ex packages so they don’t overstay their visas, Bush didn’t seize the opportunity to hit Christie back.
“It came out wrong,” Bush said — perhaps thinking of his own verbal gaffes.
Bush also declared himself unworried about internal tumult inside his campaign, which has reined in spending and cut ties with three fundraising consultants in the past week as it’s become clear that the path to the Republican nomination will be rockier than Bush’s team expected.
“I had a great fundraiser last night,” Bush said, referring to a reception at the Coral Gables home of auto executive Manny Kadre. “I did seven fundraisers last week. I promise you that when you look at the results on September 30th, that we will be fine.”