Bush loses cool as campaign falters and Trump twists knife
Not long ago, he was calling himself a “joyful tortoise”. But over the weekend the image Jeb Bush, once presumed heir to the Republican nomination for the White House, presented of calm, cheerful optimism finally disappeared.
A day after being forced to slash his staff, a rattled Mr Bush took to the stage on Saturday at a rally in the staunchly Republican state of South Carolina.
In contrast to his early promise to be “joyful” and determined, if slow off the mark, in response to the insurgency of Donald Trump, he denounced his rivals, the tone of the contest and even the party’s followers.
They were risking Washington gridlock by supporting causes that were popular within the party faithful but unrealistic, he suggested.
“If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want anything, I don’t want any part of it,” he told the audience. “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonise me and feeling compelled to demonise them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
The outburst was meant as a takedown of Mr Trump. But in the light of his decision to cut the campaign’s payroll by 40pc and dramatically reduce travel costs, along with a further worsening in his poll ratings, it took on a more petulant tone.
He languishes fifth in the polls, trailing behind not only Mr Trump but Ben Carson, a doctor who denies the truth of evolution, and Marco Rubio, his former protege. His staff cuts were enforced despite an unrivalled war chest of $133m.
Mr Trump mercilessly mocked Bush in his home state at the weekend, saying the former Florida governor is not ready to be president. He said Bush was “losing badly and embarrassing his family.
“Bush has no money. He’s cutting. He’s meeting today with mommy and daddy and they’re working on their campaign,” Mr Trump told a raucous crowd of thousands gathered along the riverfront of one of Florida’s most conservative cities.
He chastised Mr Bush for paying his finance director more than $1m and said that if campaign staffers were willing to work for lower pay, he should have made that deal when the campaign started. “You don’t wait till you’re failing,” he said.
By contrast, Mr Trump said he had only spent about $2m on his campaign and he was leading in polls.
“So, I’ve put up less money than anybody else and I’m number one,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better if we had a country that would spend the least and be number one? Think about it.”
The Bush campaign responded by saying people are getting tired of Mr Trump.
“Donald Trump needs a new schtick. Launching absurd attacks at his opponents to distract from his lack of ideas and liberal record is beginning to wear thin with voters. Donald Trump is increasingly showing each day that he is not a serious enough person to be commander-in-chief and lead the world’s most powerful military,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.
If people are tiring of Mr Trump, it didn’t show on Saturday. A large crowd gathered at an open-air mall for his visit. Brandon Chance (25) wore a T-shirt with an artistic rendition of Mr Trump pointing, which said “Washington, DC – You’re Fired.”
Mr Chance said one of the reasons he liked Mr Trump was that he had never held political office and was paying for his own campaign. “He’s not relying on people to work him like a puppet,” Mr Chance said.