- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Thursday accused front-runner Donald Trump of “hijacking” the conservative party, his attacks becoming sharper and tone angrier in a last-ditch plea for support before the South Carolina primary this weekend.

He rattled off a list of reasons why Mr. Trump wasn’t a conservative after an audience member at a town hall meeting asked why he always attacks the billionaire businessman and reality TV star, which Mr. Bush did during his stump speech.

“Are you scared of Donald Trump? Something’s up,” the young man asked.

“Yes. He’s not a conservative. He’s the leading candidate in the conservative party. He’s hijacked our party,” Mr. Bush said to applause form the crowd in a convention center in Columbia, South Carolina. “I’ve been a conservative all my life.”

Mr. Bush has made his confrontational posture toward Mr. Trump a mainstay of his run, trying to claim the mantle of mainstream GOP alternative to the bombastic real estate mogul, who appears poised to win the nomination.

The former Florida governor slammed Mr. Trump for opposing Social Security reform and increased military spending and for having voiced support for a single-payer health care system.

“He talked about things as it relates to guns, the life question, health care, the economy that is out of the mainstream of conservative thought,” Mr. Bush said. “But for me, who? Who’s going to take him on if I don’t?”

In his stump speech, Mr. Bush hammered home his argument that he has the experience necessary to reform Washington, balance the federal budget, rebuild the military and revive the economy.

“You’ve got to have a zeal for this,” he said. “You have to have some firsthand experience in business and in government to make it happen. And guess what? I do. In fact, I’m the only one that has the zeal for reform and the proven record of making this happen.”

He also hit Mr. Trump for questioning the heroism of war hero Sen. John McCain and for appearing to mock a disabled newspaper reporter, flaps from early in the campaign that failed to slow Mr. Trump’s momentum.

“No one should say something like that,” Mr. Bush said.

Later, another young voter in the audience said that his friends didn’t like the idea of electing a third Bush as president. The question echoed a sentiment that has hobbled Mr. Bush’s campaign since he entered the race.

Mr. Bush joked that he wasn’t running for his family to break the record set by the Adams family, which had two presidents. He then pivoted to talking about his plan to lower student debt and make college more affordable.

He closed with a plea for support or a prayer.

“If you believe like I do that we are on the verge of the greatest time to be alive but it requires real leadership to fix the mess in Washington, D.C., I ask for your support,” he said. “And if you are not supporting me, I ask for your prayers because this is a fun journey but it gets arduous from time to time.”

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