CORALVILLE — Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came out swinging at GOP front-runner Donald Trump during a campaign stop here on a bitterly cold Tuesday morning.
The one-time favorite for the Republican nomination knocked Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for sending classified emails on a private server and said she provided misleading information about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, for political purposes.
But the sharpest attacks were saved for Trump.
“The front-running candidate for president of United States in our party, is he really a conservative?” Bush said before a crowd of about 150 people at the Coralville Public Library. “Does he know what conservative principles look like? Could he apply them in such a way that would allow everyone to rise up? Or is it all about him?”
Bush tried to paint Trump as divisive and reckless, particularly on foreign policy. He cited Trump’s call for a 45 cent tariff on goods from China, his lack of understanding of a nuclear triad and his wanting to leave China to manage the North Korean threat.
“This is not a movie,” Bush said. “We are not in a reality TV show. This is serious business. This has to be a high priority.
“The reason America needs to lead the world is to create a more peaceful and secure world for us and for the world. You don’t do this by trash talking. You don’t use big words and say, ‘Here are red lines’ and don’t follow up.”
Bush, who has been to Iowa far less than most rivals, was on a two-day swing through the state with stops in Grinnell, Ankeny and Urbandale days before the second-to-last televised Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses, in South Carolina on Thursday.
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Despite his vast war chest and political pedigree, Bush has never grained traction and is polling at less than 5 percent, according to poll aggregator Real Clear Politics.
Bush spoke for about 30 minutes and took another 30 minutes of questions in a town-hall format. Bush touted himself as a problem solver who built consensus to eliminate affirmative action in Florida while spurring minority enrollment in universities, created the first statewide educational voucher system in the nation, and started a community-based childhood welfare system.
“I am a disrupter,” Bush said. “When things don’t work, I run to the fire. I don’t run away. That’s a big difference. Either you have a servant’s heart who sees a problem and moves toward and tries to fix the problem, or you go into the witness protection program and hide.”
Rhonda Barr, 63, of Iowa City, one of the attendees at the library event, is leaning toward supporting Bush because of his ideas and because of his success running Florida.
“I think we need to see more of him in Iowa, so people can hear his ideas,” Barr said. “I think he can bring Democrats to Bush if he works at it.”
An audience member questioned how Bush feels about the term “establishment candidate,” a notion he tried to dispel.
“If being the brother of the president and the son of a president means I am part of the establishment, so be it,” Bush said.
He said he’d let others define him, but, he added, “I had 32 years in the private sector building a business from the ground up with my partner, I lived overseas. I lived a full life. It certainly isn’t defined as the establishment life. It was one of risk taking. Dreaming big dreams, and starting at an early age.”
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Darran Whiting, 44, and his son Andy, 21, both of Marion, called attending the event “window shopping.”
The elder Whiting, a pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, was disappointed Bush didn’t address social conservative staples, such as social issues and religious liberties, and said it is clear they aren’t priorities.
Both Whitings said if anything, Tuesday’s event solidified their support for Ted Cruz.
“Social issues are more important to me than the economy,” Darran Whiting said.