Jeb Bush sought to go on offense against Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBusinessman offers M to charity for Trump tax returns Is Hillary Clinton a free trader? Obama to expand program to accept Central American migrants MORE by hammering him Thursday for his rhetoric on immigration and by arguing that the real estate mogul is unelectable and not conservative.
Speaking to reporters after a town hall meeting Thursday in Keene, N.H., Bush defended the immigrant experience as quintessentially American and branded Trump’s language on the issue as divisive.
Bush called the rhetoric on immigration that has dominated the GOP primary “bombastic” and “hurtful” to the immigrant population.
“There are a lot of people that share the immigrant experience, and when they hear this, what they hear is, you don’t think I’m part of this, you don’t think I’m part of this country,” Bush said. “I know that — I know that for a fact, because hundreds of people tell me that.”
Bush also said that he is a more electable candidate than Trump by pointing to a Quinnipiac University poll that shows him beating Hillary Clinton 49-38 in Florida. The same poll shows Trump only has a two-point advantage on the Democratic front-runner in Florida.
“I’m a proven conservative with a record, he isn’t,” Bush said.
“I’m beating Hillary by 12 in Florida, he’s losing in Florida,” Bush said. “When people start realizing that we need to win, I think it’ll look a lot better.”
The tough talk from Bush comes a day after he and Trump exchanged barbs at rival town hall events just 20 miles apart on Wednesday night in New Hampshire.
Bush, the presumptive front-runner for the GOP nomination prior to his declaration of candidacy, has largely been eclipsed by Trump, who is now ahead of him in both national polls and surveys of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Trump is dominating the media discussion of the race and drawing big crowds. He has defied predictions that his support would fall.
Some supporters of Bush have called on the candidate to take tougher shots at Trump in a bid to cut into his support. Bush has largely avoided that strategy, including at the first GOP debate earlier this month. But Thursday’s remarks suggest a rethinking of that strategy.
Trump has gone after Bush repeatedly.
On Wednesday, he described Bush as a lifeless candidate while mocking the size of Bush’s crowd, which he said had likely been lulled to sleep by the former Florida governor.
“Right down the road we have Jeb,” he said. “Very small crowd. … You know what’s happening to Jeb’s crowd right down the street? They’re sleeping now.”
He also criticized Bush’s past support of the Common Core education standards and ripped him over the Iraq War.
Bush sought to fire back on Wednesday night but adopted a more confident, combative tone on Thursday.
He snapped at a reporter to not yell over him, defended his use of the term “anchor baby” to describe children born in the United States to illegal immigrants and finished his answers with remarks such as “over and out” and “OK, now we’ve got that out of the way.”
He called Trump’s recently released immigration plan “not conservative” and seemed ready to take on the GOP frontrunner on a host of issues.
“I have been consistently pro-life, he until recently was for partial-birth abortion,” Bush said. “I’ve never met a person that actually felt that that was a good idea.
“I believe we need to reform our healthcare system to make sure that we stop the suppression of wages and allow people access to insurance,” Bush continued. “He’s for a single-payer system, I mean, he actually advocates these things.
“He’s been a Democrat longer than he’s been a Republican.”
Bush trails Trump in New Hampshire by double-digits, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday. The poll shows Trump garnering 24 percent support in the key primary state, while Bush comes in second with 13 percent support.