Bush keeps hitting Rubio

Jeb Bush: 'People need to show up for work'
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Story highlights

  • Bush had no qualms pointing out repeatedly that Rubio has neglected his job in Congress since launching his White House campaign
  • "People that are serving need to show up and work. Period. Over and out," Bush told CNN's Jamie Gangel

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN)It hasn't exactly been a smooth ride for Jeb Bush: His poll numbers are stalled, his debate performances have failed to impress, and Donald Trump is now taunting him to drop out of the presidential race.

But rather than retreat, Bush is vowing to fight back, appearing almost energized by the task of rebooting his campaign.
"I'm a grinder," Bush told CNN's Jamie Gangel in a lengthy sit-down at a local restaurant here. He then repeated a line that seems to be serving as his new motto: "I eat nails before I have breakfast."
    But as upbeat as he appeared, Bush acknowledged on Tuesday that the process of running for president has been, in some ways, more difficult than he anticipated.
    "It's a different kind of hard than I expected, just because the emergence of people that have no proven record in public life," he said.
    Part of Bush's new strategy is going after Marco Rubio. In Tuesday's interview, he had no qualms pointing out repeatedly that the first-term senator from Florida has neglected his job in Congress since launching his White House campaign.
    "People that are serving need to show up and work. Period. Over and out," Bush told Gangel. "I just think people need to show up and work. That's what I did."
    The former Florida governor, however, insisted that he didn't mean for these comments to be criticism of Rubio, his one-time mentee.
    "I'm not attacking to say someone should show up to work," he said. "Do you get paid when you don't show up? I mean, come on. Does anybody in this room get paid when they decide I'm going to go do something else?"
    "You're going to keep saying it?" Gangel asked.
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    "That people ought to show up and work? Yeah," Bush replied.
    He went on to defend Rubio from Trump's criticisms, calling the senator "capable" and "talented." But at the end of the day, Bush added, there's no one else in the Republican field more qualified than he to be president of the United States.
    Bush's jabs at Rubio came as the ex-governor is trying to once again revamp his stalled campaign. For months, Bush has struggled in the single digits in national polls.
    At the third GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado, last week, a feistier Bush took the stage. He went after Rubio for missing votes in the Senate, saying: "Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term and you should be showing up to work. What is this, like a French work week?"
    But Rubio quickly hit back, essentially getting the last word in an exchange that most deemed a victory for the senator. "The only reason you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position," he said.
    The escalating tension between the two men, who until now have largely steered clear of going after one another on the campaign trail, signals that the campaign has turned a corner into a more competitive phase. The pressure is particularly mounting for mid-tier candidates like Bush, who have struggled to break out of the pack and catch up to the party's front-runners.
    A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this week showed Bush in fifth place at 8% -- far behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Trump at the top. Rubio and Ted Cruz were also ahead of Bush at 11% and 10%, respectively.
    As Bush languishes in the polls and with the Iowa causes now just three months away, his team has made several moves to try to reboot his campaign.
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    The campaign announced drastic cuts to salaries, personnel and other costs, as part of an effort to direct more resources to the early states. Meanwhile, ex-governor's allies have promised that voters will see a more energized and fired-up Bush on the trail -- he's confronted relentless criticism from Trump and others for lacking in energy and inspiration.
    This week, Bush has taken a new campaign slogan -- "Jeb Can Fix It" -- on the road, to emphasize his accomplishments as Florida governor and contrast his years in the governor's mansion against the resumes of some of his rivals who have less public service experience.
    Bush acknowledged on Tuesday that the process of running for president has been, in some ways, more difficult than he anticipated.
    "It's a different kind of hard than I expected, just because the emergence of people that have no proven record in public life," he said.

    Bush takes on Trump

    Like most of his rivals, Bush has suffered this cycle from the overwhelming dominance of Trump. The New York real estate mogul has topped the national polls for months, only recently falling behind Carson.
    On Tuesday, Bush took a hard jab at his bombastic rival, questioning Trump's ability to assume the role of commander-in-chief.
    "To get your foreign policy advice from the shows is probably not the best way to be ready to be president," Bush said. "If you have intellectual curiosity as a leader, you can grow into the job. I'm not sure Mr. Trump has much intellectual curiosity."
    The former governor said he was "not comfortable" with some of Trump's foreign policy views -- particularly his recent remarks about Syria. Trump has argued that the United States should allow Russian President Vladmir Putin to take the lead in battling ISIS in the region, even as top U.S. military officials have raised red flags about Russia's increasing involvement in Syria.
    "He praises Putin and says let Russia take care of ISIS," Bush said. "It's a reactive kind of mode that somehow, I'm the big guy in the room and I'll just figure it out as I go along."

    'Be patient and stick with it'

    In a rare moment, Bush also shared personal advice he's received from his brother, George W. Bush, on running for the White House: "Be patient and stick with it."
    "At the end of the day, people are going to start figuring out who's going to be president, who's going to sit behind the big desk, to use his terminology," Bush said. "And it's encouraging to hear him say that because he knows. He's been through ups and downs."
    Bush spoke at length about the support he's received from other family members, including his parents. His mother and former first lady, Barbara Bush, initially expressed skepticism about the idea of a third Bush becoming president.
    But that's no longer the case, Bush said, saying everyone in the Bush clan are now "fully onboard."
    "They're all in for Jeb," he said.
    But it was clear that the negative headlines from the past few months have weighed on Bush as he considers the toll that campaigning can take on his family.
    "I feel -- I would never want to let them down, for sure," Bush said. "I don't get the sense that they're disappointed in me, in any way."
    He added: "The hardest critic of Jeb Bush is Jeb Bush."