Now that he has pledged to stay true to the Republicans, regardless of how the presidential nomination turns out, billionaire Donald Trump is turning up the heat on one of his few rivals who still has the chance to overtake him.
Trump has been belittling former Florida governor Jeb Bush for weeks as a “low energy” candidate who lacks the fire in his belly to lead the country and has too much compassion for illegal immigrants – even rapists and criminals. And just as Bush has begun to strike back with TV ads denouncing Trump as a liberal Democrat in conservative Republican disguise, Trump used a press conference at the Trump Tower in New York Thursday afternoon to warn he is more than ready for a brawl with the normally wonky Bush.
“I watched him this morning on television, and it’s a little bit sad,” Trump told a large throng of reporters, supporters and onlookers. “Don’t forget, he was supposed to win. He just doesn’t have the energy. But what he does have is a lot of money that was given to him by special interest donors and lobbyists.”
“And I just hope that if he spends money on ads, which he may not, if I were him I would spend money on positive ads about himself,” Trump counseled Bush as he joyously reviewed the state of play in the GOP presidential campaign in which he is leading the 16 other candidates with solid double-digit figures in the latest national polls.
Trump suggested that the lobbyists and special interests were pressing Bush to go more negative: “Look, he’s getting the money from special interests, he’s getting the money from lobbyists and his donors – and they’re making him do it because he is crashing in the polls. If he spends $20 million or $25 million on negative ads, I don’t know. I know my life will continue…”
Related: Trump Rips Bush for Speaking Spanish, Bush Calls Trump a ‘Germophobe’Trump, with his billions, sought to contrast himself with Bush and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton by saying he is self-financing his campaign and doesn’t need to be beholden to special interest donors – even while as many as five independent super-PACs are planning to spend vast sums on advertising promoting Trump for president. “And they have total control over Jeb and Hillary and everybody else who takes that money,” Trump bellowed.
Trump went on to remind his rivals that “I only hit people when they hit me,” and that those who have tried – including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Texas governor Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – are all vanishing in the polls and the campaign.
The real estate magnate and former reality TV star was in a good mood shortly after signing a pledge to support the GOP presidential nominee, whoever he or she turns out to be, and was clearly buoyed by his dazzling performance in the polls. In the first national Monmouth University poll published since the initial GOP presidential debate August 6, Trump enjoyed a solid lead at 30 percent of likely Republican voters, with only former neurosurgeon Ben Carson in his rearview mirror with 18 percent.
Bush had scored a second-place finish in an earlier poll, but dropped from 12 percent in August to just 8 percent now, putting him well back in the pack.
It has been a bitter summer for Bush, who has been battered by Trump’s relentless barbs and ads distorting his message and record and seeing his once robust fundraising machine begin to sputter. Trump has berated Bush for speaking Spanish during some of his campaign appearances, and ran an ad reminding people that Bush’s mother once said the country doesn’t need another Bush presidency – something she later disavowed. On Tuesday, Bush’s campaign began airing his strongest attack yet with a video that portrays Trump as a liberal, out-of-touch New Yorker who is trying to sell himself as a conservative.
In response to Trump’s announcement that he had signed a Republican loyalty pledge, Bush’s campaign Thursday afternoon tweeted out an image of a page of a pledge saying: “Voted Republican since 1972-Jeb.”
Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Republican congressman and Bush supporter, told The Washington Post yesterday that “We all underestimated Trump at the outset,” but “Now we’re overestimating him.”