Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush unleashed a fury of criticism against Donald Trump on Saturday before imploring New Hampshire voters to forgo the billionaire businessman in the state’s Feb. 9 primary.
“You have a chance to reshape this whole primary,” Bush told hundreds of voters at a state Republican Party presidential candidate forum.
Trump, who continues to dominate polling in the first primary state, did not attend the event. Nor did Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is neck-and-neck with Trump in first-to-nominate Iowa and rising in New Hampshire. A host of candidates fighting for survival in the 2016 race appeared alongside Bush. Among them: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former CEO Carly Fiorina and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
But only Bush delivered harsh words for Trump.
“He’s a gifted entertainer, but he’s not a conservative,” Bush said, citing Trump’s past support for Democrats, including the Clintons, past stances on social issues and previous support for a single-payer health care system, noting “that’s Bernie Sanders’ position.”
He slammed Trump for saying Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war and two-time New Hampshire presidential primary winner, is not a “war hero” because he was captured. Bush also reminded voters of Trump’s remarks about women and immigrants.
“It is not strong to insult women; it is not a sign of strength when you insult Hispanics,” Bush said. “(Or) when you say that a prisoner of war is a loser because they got caught.”
Rubio and Kasich, meanwhile, largely stayed away from attacking fellow Republicans. Rubio offered only veiled attacks against Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over taxes. Instead, he stuck largely to his campaign speech and focused his criticism on President Barack Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“We are on the road to decline right now, and the reason is because in 2008 America elected a president who wasn’t interested in fixing the problems of America,” Rubio said.
He criticized Obama for his stance on gun rights, immigration, education, military and foreign policy.
“The result is the anger and frustration that people are feeling now,” the Florida senator said, echoing the feelings of Trump’s supporters and populist message. But, without naming rivals Trump and Cruz, the Rubio said voters cannot “just elect any Republican.”
Kasich, by contrast, said it’s pointless to spend time focusing on Obama, who has only months left in office. Kasich in recent days has said he plans to keep his focus on what’s ahead. But, he noted he’s excited about the prospect of challenging Clinton in a general election.
“She’s a fragile candidate,” he said. “In the general, I’m gonna have a ball.”
Paul criticized rival Rubio and other Republican senators for pushing to raise military spending, which he said would add to the $19 trillion national debt.
The Kentucky senator, whose campaign is struggling to gain traction, also said that Rubio, Bush and other Republicans are eroding Americans’ civil liberties in the fight against terror.
They “want more surveillance of you,” he said.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.