The Republican presidential candidate delivered a strong performance here at his midday town hall in Bedford
Bush also had some criticism for his other rivals ahead of Saturday night's debate on ABC News
Just hours before Saturday night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush fired up his biggest crowd to date with digs against rival Donald Trump and exuded blunt confidence when addressing concerns about his family name.
The Republican presidential candidate, who’s aiming for a top tier finish in next week’s primary after his poor showing in Iowa, delivered a strong performance here at his midday town hall in Bedford, showing a mix of humor and emotion before a packed crowd.
Outside were even more people who were turned away from the fire marshal after capacity was reached in the middle school’s gymnasium. With just a few days before polling booths open up on Tuesday, voters are still shopping around to make their final decision.
After delivering his stump speech, the first man to ask a question lit into Trump for mocking a reporter with a disability late last year – something Trump denies doing.
The voter identified himself as a longtime boxing fan and drew an analogy comparing the rivalry between Trump and Bush to a famous boxing match in 1980 between John Tate and Mike Weaver, in which Weaver was losing for 14 rounds until he came back in the 15th round to knock out Tate.
“Governor, you’re Mike Weaver,” the man said. “Throw that punch tonight.”
After the crowd erupted in agreement, Bush highlighted his own record of helping people with disabilities, and as he’s been doing for weeks, lambasted Trump for what he calls his habit of “disparaging” people, suggesting this time that his rival candidate needs a visit to the couch.
“It’s just ridiculous. It’s a sign of deep insecurity. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but the guy needs therapy,” Bush said to applause and laughter.
Bush also had some criticism for his other rivals ahead of Saturday night’s debate on ABC News. The former Florida governor mocked Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal to “carpet bomb” ISIS, saying that’s an old school technique and the military has precise weaponry that eliminates the need to carpet bomb.
He then turned to Trump’s proposal. “Or say that you are going to bomb the S-H-blank-blank out of ISIS? Really? Is that a serious thought?”
In a not-so-subtle knock against Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio – both first-term senators – Bush made his pitch that the country needs an experienced leader. “We’re living in dangerous times. We’re not running for the back bench of the United States Senate, we’re running for the presidency of the United States,” he said. “And you need to have someone who knows what he’s doing.”
The more candid Bush also offered a blunt rebuttal to one voter’s question about Bush’s last name. The young woman said she was a big fan of the family, but asked how can Bush persuade other millennials who are opposed to another Bush in the White House.
The candidate referenced his campaign’s college network that spans hundreds of campus, but then grew more forthright in his rhetoric about his last name.
“The Bush thing, people are just going to have to get over it, alright?” he said to big applause.
Bush, as he’s been doing lately, said he’s been characterized as an “establishment” candidate because his father and brother were both presidents.
“I got no problems with this,” he said. “And people that do, they either need to get therapy themselves or realize that we can change the course of this country working together to solve problems.”
To show his embrace of his last name, Bush brought out his mother, Barbara Bush, on the campaign trail this week, and his brother is set to campaign with him in South Carolina before the state’s primary later this month.
But Bush’s answer wasn’t the first time his brother or father’s name came up at the event. Earlier, Bush was being introduced by Tom Ridge, and the former Homeland Security Secretary slipped up, saying “George Bush” instead of “Jeb Bush.”
“By the way, I worked for his brother and I love his dad, so excuse me for the mess-up because I think this is a legacy of principled leadership and that’s exactly what Jeb Bush would bring to the White House,” Ridge said.
Emotional Bush recounts daughter’s drug addiction
Despite all the tough talk about his rivals, Bush also showed a softer side on Saturday. When he was asked about drug addiction – a huge problem in New Hampshire – Bush signaled he was about to share his daughter’s story about her former struggle with the issue. But he paused.
“OK, I’ve not done this next to Columba,” he said, before he walked over to his wife, who was sitting in the front row, to briefly grab her hand.
Then he paused again, looked at his feet, and started choking up as he began to talk about how Noelle “spiraled out of control” more than a decade ago. It’s a story he shares often, and he’s even done it with his daughter in attendance. But Saturday marked the first time that he grew emotional in front of an audience when talking about it.
It’s also the second time in the past few days that Bush choked up at a town hall. He struggled Thursday night as well when his mother was at an event in Derry and Bush mentioned his “idyllic” father, whose health makes it difficult for him to make public appearances.
Aside from his emotional moment on Saturday, Bush also had some fun with the audience. He praised the voters for asking “real” questions, winning laughs and applause when he said “the questions on the debate stage will be probably really stupid to be honest with you.”
He also defended his Super Bowl pick of the Denver Broncos because he’s a fan of Peyton Manning. After some in the New England crowd moaned and groaned – this is Patriots country – Bush protested.
“Hey, just a second here” he said, playfully putting his foot down. “I’m for Peyton Manning because he’s for me.”
As the audience went wild, Bush had one more thing to add: “He’s also managed to be the, uh, the adult in the room – kinda like me.”