Jeb Bush has had enough of Donald Trump calling him “low energy,” so he’s launching a counterattack. That may be understandable, considering Mr. Trump’s taunting. But is it a good idea?
We’re not convinced it is. But at this point, Mr. Bush may feel he has little choice.
First, the details: On Tuesday, the Bush campaign released an attack ad meant to exploit Trump’s many past Republican apostasies. It begins with a clip meant to reinforce The Donald’s image as a very New York-style tycoon.
“I’ve lived in New York City, Manhattan, all my life. So my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa,” says a much younger Trump at the ad’s start.
Get that? This is what Bush is saying: Trump’s not from Iowa, see. Iowa, where that first-in-the-nation caucus is, and Trump is currently leading state polls. Are you listening, Iowans? He’s a Nooouuu Yawker.
Then “Liberal things Trump says," appears on screen, and the ad runs through Trump's past statements supporting abortion, Canada’s single-payer health-care system, higher taxes on rich people, President Obama’s stimulus package, and Hillary Clinton, who is “very talented.”
In the attack ad genre, this is fairly basic. Trump did say all those things, albeit years ago and under different political circumstances. He’s now running in the Republican primary. How can it hurt to point out that in the past he’s been, in some ways, a functional Democrat?
Here’s one way it might backfire: Trump will hit back harder, and Bush will find that he’s brought dust bunnies to a mud ball fight.
Look at this 15 second Trump video on Bush’s immigration stance, released earlier this week. It juxtaposes Bush’s remark that illegal immigration can be an “act of love” with photos of undocumented immigrants who have been charged with or convicted of murder.
This makes the infamous George H. W. Bush “Willie Horton” ad look as nuanced as a think tank discussion.
Second, the apostasies Jeb’s ad mentioned are anathema to the GOP elite. But if the rise of Trump has demonstrated anything, it is that the Republican rank-and-file may have different priorities than its leaders.
They may not be averse to higher tax rates for the wealthy, for one thing. They’re perhaps not in favor of Medicare cuts. A tough immigration policy, sure – but that’s one issue the Bush ad was careful to skirt.
Finally, political positions may not matter greatly to Trump voters at all. He draws some support from all GOP factions, from moderates to conservatives and Tea Party radicals. They are united in their approval of his approach to life. The core of his appeal isn’t a 10-point plan: It’s belligerence.
As we noted above, Bush might feel that given Trump’s thinly veiled attacks on his manhood, he has little choice but to mix it up. He needs to at least begin to try and wear away Trump’s voter appeal. This ad might be a start.
But we doubt that Bush’s actual problem with Trump is that he thinks Trump is Bernie Sanders in disguise.
“It’s telling that Jeb Bush is going after Trump for being a fake conservative, rather than for being a dangerously unserious person,” tweets Josh Barro, a writer for The Upshot explainer section of The New York Times.