Jeb Bush Trying to Get His Groove Back By Attacking Trump

Jeb Bush seems to have found his voice, in attacking Donald Trump.

ByABC News
December 21, 2015, 6:32 PM
Jeb Bush listens to a question during a town hall event, Dec. 19, 2015, in Exeter, N.H.
Jeb Bush listens to a question during a town hall event, Dec. 19, 2015, in Exeter, N.H.
Mary Schwalm/AP Photo

MANCHESTER, NH -- Jeb Bush has nothing to lose.

His waning candidacy has seen a slump in national polls for months now. This is not the campaign the son and brother of presidents expected to run. Upon his announcement, he was the presumptive nominee, the establishment champion who had governed a swing state and spoke perfect Spanish. That all has now changed.

Yet, even as his prospects to be the third Bush in office appear to dim, the former Florida governor says that he appreciates his new standing. On CBS' "Face the Nation," John Dickerson reminded him of his once-frontrunner status.

"I hated that," Bush replied. "I feel much better back here," he said, smiling.

"I have a brother that was president and a father that was president," he added. "And that higher expectation was important to realize. And so being the frontrunner made me feel like the other guy's just dancing right through this. I have to go earn it."

His campaign has set out to do just that. This weekend, Bush went about accomplishing his own ambitious feat in the state; hosting four town halls in one day, what some political observers said was a record.

He set out at 8 a.m. with his first town hall. An enthusiastic crowd of close to 100 greeted him as he discussed educational reform and his long-set strategy to defeat ISIS.

But here, the specter of another candidate loomed large. Minutes into his remarks, Bush decided to unload.

"Donald Trump is a chaos candidate," he said, reprising a line from the most recent debate.

He went on to slam Trump for being the beneficiary of Russian President Vladimir Putin's praise, saying that Putin "will respect strength not a clown show" and derided Trump for not knowing what the nuclear triad was.

But he wasn't done.

“Just one more thing, I gotta get off my chest. Donald Trump is a jerk," he said emphatically. "You cannot insult your way to the presidency, you can't disparage women, Hispanics, disabled people. Who is he kidding?"

After finishing his barrage, he joked, "I feel better now.”

It seems to be therapy for Bush, to finally get to publicly deride Trump, something those close to him have said he's been doing privately for a long time.

"To a certain extent, it is a little liberating to be able to post up against a guy who is not qualified to be president," Bush told Dickerson.

But if Bush sees Trump's apparent omnipresence as a problem, it may be one of Bush's own doing. He mentioned Trump at each of his town halls, most often unprompted, assailing him as a candidate who's not serious and doesn't have serious plans.

At the historic Exeter Town Hall, a voter asked Bush, "How are you going to beat Donald Trump?"

"Well, first of all, do you want me to?," Bush replied, as the crowd shouted "yes!" and applauded.

And then, an earnest plea: "In reality, you're the answer to the question, right?" he said. "His whole organizing principle is that he's winning. Well what happens after he stops winning? There's nothing there. There are no plans."

Adding, " The question is would New Hampshire want to support a guy who might tarnish this extraordinary reputation that you have which is first in the [nation] primary status ...I don't think Donald Trump's going to survive New Hampshire to be honest with you because I have too much confidence in you all."

Bush has promised to out-campaign all others and is focusing his campaign's attention in the Granite State. He is back in New Hampshire this Monday and Tuesday and will return the next week, hoping that old fashioned retail "politicking" will bolster his campaign. Advisers believe that poll numbers are not representative of actual voter sentiment, and say that New Hampshire will end up hugely important in Bush's chances in the rest of the nation.

His New Hampshire Senior Adviser, Rich Killion told ABC that he sees many voters being swayed after each town hall.

“We find our conversion rates have always been the highest when he’s out there by himself in a town hall meeting," Killion said.

Indeed, after each town hall, many voters were encouraging and effusive in their praise, with one woman saying "That's the guy we've been waiting to see!"

By the time Bush reached his fourth town hall in Nashua, he had done 3 others, taped an interview with CBS, and made five other unannounced stops to maximize voter contact.

Rob Bellizzi, a commercial banker from Albany, NY, was in the audience with a group of friends all eager to hear from Bush.

"Well we know he's not doing the greatest which I think is kind of good," Bellizzi said. "If he ends up getting it [the nomination], I think being tested early on and not necessarily steamrolling through the competition, I think it will be a good test of how good he'll be as he overcomes this challenge."

We asked him if he thinks Bush can overcome his numbers.

“No, I don't think he can," he said.