A fiery Jeb Bush Thursday turned the table on rival Donald Trump, who's mercilessly taunted him as unelectable and dull – suggesting it's the brash billionaire who can't win because the 2016 vote isn't about how "great you are" or "how rich you are."
On the stump in New Hampshire, the former Florida governor never mentioned Trump's name in a meeting with voters, but there was no mistaking who he was talking about.
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"You don't win when you're the large dog in the room where it's all about you," Bush told the gathering.
"You win when you connect with people about their aspirations – not about how great you area, how rich you are, how this you are, how that your are. That's not leadership. Leadership is connecting with people on what their aspirations are, and giving them some hope that things can get better."
And at his town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, across from where Trump was holding his own town hall Wednesday, Bush lobbed an uncharacteristically hard hit directly at the front-runner.
When the former Florida governor was asked by a voter about the "candidate that's leading in all the polls," Bush deadpanned: "You're talking about Trump, aren't you? You can mention his name … "
"Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record," Bush said, The Washington Post reports.
"He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican. He has given more money to Democrats than he’s given to Republicans."
Bush continued, "I cut taxes every year; he’s proposed the largest tax increase in mankind’s history, not just our own country’s history," The New York Times
"I have been consistently pro-life; he until recently was for partial-birth abortion. I’ve never met a person that actually thought that was a good idea. I believe we need to reform our healthcare system to make sure we stop the suppression of wages and allow people to have access to insurance; he’s for a single-payer system."
"Even on immigration where ... the language is pretty vitriolic for sure," Bush added, according to the Post. "But hundreds of billions of dollars of costs to implement his plans is not a conservative plan. This is going to be my pitch: Let’s support someone who you don’t have to guess where he stands because he’s consistent, because he’s been governor he’s consistently had the views that he has."
"I think what people are eventually going to vote for is a proven conservative leader that’s done it —
not talked about it, that’s actually done it," Bush said later, the Post reports. "And I have a proven conservative record, a consistent proven conservative record."
It's a striking change in tack on the campaign trail, where Bush has largely avoided taking direct aim at Trump, even as the real estate billionaire – at his town hall event in Derry – chided Bush as "a low energy person."
"I don't see how he's electable," Trump said, CNN reports. "Jeb Bush is a low energy person. For him to get things done is hard. He's very low energy."
Referencing Trump’s appeal to voters’ anger and dissatisfaction with politics-as-usual, The Wall Street Journal reports
Bush also roamed the room declaring: "We will never win appealing to people’s anger every day."
A Bush donor told the Post after the Wednesday event the new aggressive posture "generally results from the reaction of some donors to a rather placid, if technically on-message debate performance where he only 'came alive' on education."
"Trump is taking it to Jeb and others, bully-like," the donor tells the Post. "It’s time they all take it to him without playing his game."
New Hampshire state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez tells the Post Bush "needs to campaign as aggressively as [Sen. John McCain] when he was running the first and second times." The Arizona senator won the New Hampshire GOP primary in both 2000 and 2008.
"You need to concentrate, going town to town and visiting as many as possible. See as many nonprofits or groups as possible and make his presence felt. He’s done enough, but much more needs to be done at this point."
Jamie Burnett, who also advised Romney's 2008 bid and is now backing Bush, tells the Post "he’s engaging the voters."
"He’s not turning to Page 47 of his policy positions to check his answers. He’s engaging people and giving them real answers."
The wattage was up Thursday as well, when Bush defended a message to campaign donors from his brother, former President George W. Bush, the Post reports.
The donation pitch was the former president’s first entry into the 2016 campaign.
"Is that a contradiction? I’ve got my own record, I’ve got my own life experience, I’m blessed to have a brother that loves me and wants to help me. Over and out," Bush snapped at reporters while campaigning in Keene, New Hampshire.
The change in tone may be an answer to the so-called Trump effect, which the website Vox describes
as the attempt by nervous rivals of Trump to say things they may come to regret down the road, specifically about immigration.
For example, Bush on Thursday got a little testy defending his use of the term “anchor babies" on Bill Bennett’s radio show
after Democrats hounded him and Trump for using the term, CNN reports.
"No, I don't. I don't regret it," Bush said sharply.
Pressed further, he barked: "No, do you have a better term? OK, you give me, you give me a better term and I'll use it. I'm serious."
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