HAMPTON, NH — Jeb Bush took his offensive against Republican presidential rival Donald Trump on the road to this early voting state on Thursday, lambasting the real estate mogul’s proposals in his opening remarks and defiantly responding to his jeers. He also faced some heat on immigration, Trump’s signature issue.
Trump has criticized Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail. Bush said Thursday he believed in campaigning with “brazos abiertos — with our arms wide open.” Trump has accused Bush of lacking the “energy” to be president. Bush vowed to “wake up each day with passion and conviction to make sure people’s pocketbooks are filled with more money.”
The former Florida governor also continued his efforts to cast Trump as insufficiently conservative, calling out Trump’s previous praise for a single-payer health-care system; impractical, saying Trump’s immigration policy “does not embrace the American values”; and accusing him of fear-mongering, charging that Trump is “preying on people’s fear and angst.”
“My belief is that if we create the right climate, America is going to rise up and lead the world for the next generation of time,” said Bush. “Donald Trump’s view is that the end is near.”
Bush presented himself as the much more optimistic alternative. “Whatever the issue is, there is one path that is aspirational and hopeful and there is one path that is negative and it is not the right path for this country,” he said.
Bush fielded questions on health care, money in politics and immigration, among other things. He said he would unveil more tax ideas on September 9th, and he promised that he was not “beholden” to the donors that have funded his campaign. His audience, a mixture of employees of Foss Manufacturing, the company that hosted the town hall, and activists, infrequently interrupted him for applause, and did not react at all to the criticism of Trump.
A tracker was quick to capture and upload video of a woman apparently nodding off at one point. Later, Bush appeared to offer an explanation, tweeting a photo of himself with the woman and noting that he was “in awe of working moms like Tara who woke up at 4AM for 12 hr shift!”
And while Trump wasn’t in the room, some of Trump’s immigration views were represented by Dennis Lamare, 58, an unsuccessful 2010 Republican candidate for Senate.
“Right now there’s an air of appeasement,” said Lamare. “It’s, ‘let them come in! Let them go where they want!'”
Bush waited as Lamare laid out a long, immigration restrictionist argument. The candidate then delivered his own familiar plan for earned legal status, before inviting Lamare to follow up.
“What are you going to do about Mexico?” he asked. “We’re being defensive! Why don’t we be offensive for once?”
“They should enforce their southern border,” said Bush.
“What about the northern border?” asked Lamare.
“The northern border is not where, in the last five years, immigration has come from,” said Bush. “It has not come from Mexico.”
Earlier in the day, during a national television interview, Bush responded to Trump’s criticism of him speaking Spanish on the campaign trail, saying that he “laughed” when he learned about Trump’s remarks.
“People come to this country to pursue their dreams,” Bush said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Sometimes they start without speaking English, but they learn English and they add vitality to our country. And the fact that he would say that you only can speak English is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. Are we going to close all the foreign language classes? Why would he have a contract with Univision for his beauty pageant?”
Trump called Bush a “nice man” in an interview with Breitbart News published Wednesday. But he added that he “should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.”
When asked whether he would support Trump if he wins the Republican nomination, Bush said, “of course.”
In Hampton, when the town hall ended, Bush stuck around for photos as Foss employees headed back to work. The Trump lines, heavily previewed in the media, did not generate much discussion.
“It’s nice to hear people give their views on the problems we have,” said John Mourikas, 61, who worked at Foss. “The Trump stuff — eh, I didn’t really listen to that.”
And while Lamare appreciated Bush’s candor, he left with a clearer view of why he was inclined to support someone else for president.
“For him to attack Trump — that’s his job up there, to separate himself,” Lamare said after the town hall ended. “I can’t say whether that worked, but he doesn’t really have the charisma that one would expect in a setting like this.”
Sullivan reported from Washington