- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush on Tuesday called front-runner Donald Trump a “bully,” a “buddy of the Clintons” and a threat to Republicans’ chance of winning the White House this year, as he settled into a strategy of sustained attacks on the billionaire businessman designed to distinguish himself as the ultimate anti-Trump candidate.

Mr. Bush is convinced that if he keeps assailing Mr. Trump and outlasts the others in the race, he can consolidate the anti-Trump vote and win the nomination, according to Bush campaign officials.

“The process is such that, as we go through these primaries and caucuses, the field is going to winnow. We’ve been very clear that our strategy has been a long-game strategy, that we are built for the long term and we mean it,” a Bush campaign insider said.

Mr. Bush has been mired in the low single digits in polls, but the campaign has fixed its sights on the roughly seven out of 10 Republican voters who don’t support Mr. Trump at this juncture in the race and could remain wary of his unconventional campaign as the field narrows.

The strategy hinges on Mr. Bush’s ability to outlast the competition and finish not too far behind in the early nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

However, doubts about Mr. Bush’s strategy have emerged even among his allies.

“He’s got the right attack, and he’s right in terms of messaging. The problem is he’s the wrong messenger to do it,” said a veteran Republican Party operative who asked not to be identified because of his close ties to Mr. Bush.

“I think it actually will backfire, and it helps Trump because it makes Trump more anti-establishment because he’s getting attacked by the establishment guy,” he said, noting that this is the most anti-establishment election cycle in recent history.

Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor whose brother and father served as president, has been hampered by his establishment pedigree since entering the race. He also has struggled to shake off the stigma of being the brother of President George W. Bush, who suffered dismal approval ratings when he left office in 2009.

“Even if the attacks are effective, he’s not the beneficiary of it,” said the Republican operative. “In places like Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is in low single digits, he’s not the second, third or even the fourth choice right now.”

Mr. Bush must vie for anti-Trump voters with candidates polling better, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Mr. Trump holds a commanding lead in national polls but faces stiffer competition in early-voting states. He has fallen behind Mr. Cruz in Iowa and leads a tightening race in New Hampshire.

Republican Party strategist Douglas Heye refused to count out Mr. Bush and called his attack plan a “smart play.”

The race is expected to narrow to several lanes, including a conservative lane, an evangelical lane and an anti-Trump establishment lane. Being the last man standing in the anti-Trump lane would be a good position to occupy, said Mr. Heye, who has served as a top adviser to the Republican National Committee.

He said Mr. Bush can elevate his standing in the race by going after Mr. Trump, whose support has not broken 50 percent — leaving a large number of anti-Trump voters up for grabs.

“If you’re in the anti-Trump category, this is a fight that people have wanted to see somebody take,” Mr. Heye said. “We’ve had six months of asking, ‘When will someone take on Trump?’”

Mr. Bush launched attacks from TV news shows Tuesday.

“The simple fact is Donald Trump would help Hillary Clinton get elected,” Mr. Bush said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “He can’t insult his way to the presidency. I’m the only candidate who really takes him on on this stuff.”

He has been ramping up attacks on Mr. Trump for weeks, beginning with a clash in the Republican candidates debate last month. Mr. Bush followed up with a TV ad touting himself as the “only one” of the candidates willing to battle Mr. Trump, whom he disparaged as “unserious” and a “chaos candidate.”

“What we need to have is a candidate against Hillary Clinton that has a proven record to fix things, actually take conservative principles and apply them the right way so that people can rise up again. I have that record,” Mr. Bush said on the Fox News show.

His argument against Mr. Trump echoes the conventional wisdom of the Republican establishment. But others make the case that Mr. Trump’s unconventional campaign can confound critics by turning out a wave of new voters to deliver him the nomination and carry him to the White House.

Mr. Bush also took shots at Mr. Trump on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Look, he’s a buddy of the Clintons. Is he the only person on the stage that’s given money to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and their foundation? Yes,” Mr. Bush said.

“I think he’s probably the only guy that invited Hillary Clinton to one of his weddings,” he said. “His views are closer aligned to Hillary Clinton’s than that of a conservative. How can he beat Hillary Clinton when we get into the general election? He’ll get crushed.”

Mr. Bush also said it was “remarkable no other candidate is taking him on. He’s a bully.”

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