Jeb Bush pushed back against Donald Trump on Wednesday in Beaufort, painting the Republican frontrunner as an entertainer unfit to lead.
Bush, struggling in the polls ahead of Saturday’s S.C. Republican presidential primary, told a crowd at Beaufort Inn’s Tabby Place that serious issues would arise for the next president and would require a serious leader. After the town-hall style event, Bush said he thought Trump’s attacks on his brother, former president George W. Bush, during last week’s debate could cost Trump on Saturday.
Trump “stepped in it” when he claimed the former president had advanced knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and didn’t stop them and knew there weren’t weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Jeb Bush said.
“The guy got unhinged in the debate, and his tendency is to double down when he says outrageous things, because somehow he thinks that it helps him,” Bush said in an interview with The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet after the rally.
The comments come as Bush is working to remain in the conversation for the Republican nomination, efforts that include a buzzworthy photo of a handgun posted to Bush’s Twitter account this week.
Not long after Bush’s Beaufort event, Sen. Marco Rubio earned Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement. Bush called Rubio a friend but said the senator lacked the necessary foreign policy experience.
George W. Bush was in Charleston earlier in the week to campaign for his brother. Former first lady Barbara Bush is expected to arrive in South Carolina on Thursday night and much of the Bush family will be in town by the end of the week, Jeb Bush said.
Addressing undecided voters
Mat Paulick, a 39-year-old Beaufort resident, arrived at the rally undecided.
And his mind still wasn’t made up when Bush’s staff allowed him to change his baby daughter’s dirty diaper aboard the campaign bus.
Paulick wanted to ask Bush how he would unite both parties in Congress to get things done. He wasn’t called upon, but was pleased with other Bush answers, when the candidate sought to find common ground with a young woman who is pro-choice and talked to the mother of a lesbian Air Force veteran about gay rights.
“Genuine, honest, friendliness, welcoming — I liked what I saw there,” said Paulick, who is torn between Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Longtime Beaufort resident Norman Morrall said he and a group of friends were still deciding and had seen Rubio and Trump. Morrall, an 82-year-old retired airline pilot, eliminated Trump after his appearance in Beaufort on Tuesday.
“He doesn’t go into any detail,” Morrall said.
Beaufort resident Andy Kinghorn wrote off Trump as “a disaster” and is deciding between Bush, Rubio and Kasich. He is afraid the similar candidates might dilute the support.
“I just hope the country will give (Bush) or one of the other serious candidates a chance,” Kinghorn said.
Plan to overhaul VA, build up military
Bush called for complete reform of the Veterans Administration, which he said is bloated with too many administrators and too few caregivers.
He advocated veterans being given cards and allowed to go outside of the VA for care, citing horror stories of long wait times for treatment. Bush likened the additional options to school choice in his state while he was Florida governor and said competition will make the VA better.
“It’s clear the bureaucracy needs to be challenged and modified and simplified,” Bush said. “Everything they do is just mind-numbingly incompetent.”
Bush also advocated more military spending. He said the Army was too small, many Marines don’t meet the definition of readiness and that planes are older than their pilots.
Still miffed by Trump
In going after Trump, Bush said the frontrunner’s appeal is that “he is the big horse on stage.”
He referenced some of Trump’s failed business dealings as evidence of a blemished record. Bush sounded miffed that Trump’s campaign wasn’t derailed by comments like one last summer, when he said Arizona Sen. John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured, and later when Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with a disability.
Maybe Trump’s attacks on George W. Bush will be enough, Jeb Bush said.
“I think he’s dropping and we’re moving up,” Bush said. “So we’ll see.”