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Trump And Bush Continue To Bandy Jabs On The Campaign Trial


We are nearing the phase of the presidential campaign when candidates find out what really works.


Before they started running, the candidates were all convinced they could win. They've spent money coming up with what they think are plausible strategies.

INSKEEP: What they can never quite anticipate is what their opponents will do and how the competition changes them all. The Republican primary is evolving now. The rise of Donald Trump has put pressure on other candidates to respond, even Jeb Bush, who once tried to rise above it. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea was with Bush in New Hampshire.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: A weeklong back and forth between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump went into overdrive yesterday. It began at a morning town hall in Hampton, N.H., where Bush devoted a good chunk of his 15-minute opening remarks to Trump.


JEB BUSH: And there's one candidate in the Republican Party that is preying on people's angst and fears.

GONYEA: He called out Trump by name.


BUSH: Donald Trump's view is that the end is near. His pessimistic view is let's close the borders, let's create tariffs, let's do this, let's do that, all based on negativity. And then that result is that all of us will suffer if that philosophy gains favor.

GONYEA: And while Bush was in New Hampshire, Trump was at Trump Tower in Manhattan. After a midday meeting with Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Trump declared that he will support the 2016 nominee, even if it's not him.


DONALD TRUMP: So I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stand. And we will go out, and we will fight hard, and we will win.

GONYEA: But, Trump couldn't resist a dig at Bush.


TRUMP: I watched him this morning on television, and it's a little bit sad. Don't forget, he was supposed to win. And he just doesn't have the energy.

GONYEA: Later in the day, another New Hampshire town hall for Bush, but at this one, he seemed done with attacking Trump, barely mentioning him in his opening remarks this time. But it is what the audience wanted to talk about. Here is the very first question.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Donald Trump says that anyone who criticizes him will automatically go down in the polls. Are you concerned about going down in the polls?

BUSH: No, I'm not going to participate in some reality TV show. I'm going to stay true to my beliefs.


GONYEA: The reality is that Bush willingly entered that show by going after Trump, and turning it off isn't as simple as just changing the channel. Bush has struggled to land a clean blow against Trump in this back and forth, but he did get some help yesterday when Trump stumbled on foreign policy in an interview. Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked him about Iran's elite Quds military unit.


HUGH HEWITT: Are you familiar with Gen. Suleimani?

TRUMP: Yes, I - but go ahead. Give me a little. Go ahead. Tell me.

HEWITT: Well, he runs the Quds forces.

TRUMP: Yes, OK, right.

HEWITT: Do you expect...

TRUMP: And I think the Quds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.

HEWITT: No, not the Kurds, the Quds forces.

GONYEA: It was just the kind opening Jeb Bush wanted. By the time he had met with reporters after his town hall last night, he was ready with this.


BUSH: He ought to know who the players are, for sure. I'm sure he'll bone up on this now. But this is not a flippant thing. This is a serious deal.

GONYEA: It was a day when it felt like the already fast new cycle had been accelerated, with Bush enjoying a moment where he could feel like he had the upper hand on Trump. But even as Bush focuses on Trump, he has to worry about other candidates in the field moving up. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Manchester. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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