Florida Governor Jeb Bush tried to strike a more belligerent tone in last night’s Republican presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina ("high energy," as perpetual thorn in his side Donald Trump would say). That showing is in keeping with Bush’s attempt to bloody Trump’s nose with a campaign ad released Wednesday.
The new spot doubled down on Bush’s comment last month in which he called Trump a "jerk" for mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability.
"What kind of person insults not only a disabled reporter, but millions of Americans across the country who either know someone with a disability or struggle with one themselves?" Bush wrote in a blog post announcing the ad. "It’s certainly not the kind of person deserving of the presidency."
The ad likely signals a more confrontational Bush, at least in pre-produced television ads. While stumping for the endorsement of the Des Moines Register editorial board on Tuesday, he said, "Is my tone angry enough for the current thinking? I could probably take it up a notch. I could disparage somebody if you want me to."
Questioning Trump’s judgment is a well-worn tactic for the other GOP candidates, one that continued last night. But uniquely among Trump’s competitors, Bush has positioned himself as the candidate most antithetical to Trump’s style and outlook, vocally rejecting Trump’s vitriol not only toward the disabled, but also immigrants (Bush’s wife was born in Mexico, and the candidate memorably called undocumented immigration an "act of love.") In another ad released Wednesday, Bush spoke openly about his daughter’s struggle with drug addiction.
Of course, this kinder, gentler approach hasn’t helped him in the polls. He currently sits below 5% in Iowa and below 9% in New Hampshire.
For his part, GOP frontrunner Trump earned his media attention with a bombastic performance last night. Perhaps in the expectation that the debate would give him enough of a platform this week, the soundbyte-friendly businessman reduced the size of his ad buys.
Just last week, Trump unveiled his first television ad of the campaign and vowed to back it with $2 million per week in spending for the next several months. This is only the second week of that timeline, and already his spending has plummeted to $665,000 — $350,000 in Iowa and $315,000 in New Hampshire, down from $1.1 million Iowa and nearly $1 million in New Hampshire the first week.
The next Republican debate is two weeks off, so Trump may reinvigorate his ad spending next week during a relative lull in coverage opportunities, only to pull back again, depending on whether Ted Cruz, his closest rival, continues to rise in the polls.
Follow I-Hsien on Twitter @ihsiensherwood.