WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush is ratcheting up his attacks on Donald Trump, attempting to inject much-needed energy into his own flagging campaign while counteracting Trump’s singular, unpredictable force that for weeks has roiled the Republican presidential nominating contest.
With Trump dominating recent polls — and Bush slipping in both Iowa and New Hampshire — the former Florida governor launched an assault Tuesday that tried to cast Trump as far outside of Republican orthodoxy on issues ranging from taxes to abortion.
“He’s not a conservative,’’ Bush declared in Spanish at a campaign event in Florida.
While trying to undercut Trump’s support among activist GOP voters, he is seeking to reestablish himself as the leader of mainstream Republicans and the chief alternative to Trump in a crowded field of candidates. His strategists have concluded that Trump is not going to collapse of his own weight.
But Trump has attracted strong support from angry voters who are tired of traditional politics, and the emerging dynamic has the potential to set up a months-long biting, personal battle over the direction of the GOP.
“Yet another weak hit by a candidate with a failing campaign,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, directly taunting Bush. “Will Jeb sink as low in the polls as the others who have gone after me?”
Bush on Tuesday released an 80-second online ad that used multiple video clips of Trump, in his own words, saying things that sound liberal. The casino and real estate mogul called himself “very pro-choice,’’ said his views are different than Iowans because he’s from New York, praised Hillary Rodham Clinton as “a terrific woman,” and said she would be an ideal negotiator with Iran.
The Bush-produced montage also shows Trump saying that income taxes on the wealthy should “be raised substantially.” The clip came from a congressional task force hearing in 1991, illustrating the degree to which the Bush campaign is digging through Trump’s past.
During a campaign event in Florida on Tuesday, Bush later criticized Trump in both English and Spanish.
“He attacks me every day. He attacks me every day with barbarities,” Bush said in Spanish, according to the Washington Post.
“They’re not true. What we did today was to put out in his words to show that he’s not conservative. . . . He doesn’t have a record, because he hasn’t been a person who has served like me, who served for eight years as governor.”
The Bush campaign also views Trump as vulnerable on taxes, seeing an opening to separate Trump from Republican voters who are typically averse to raising taxes of any sort.
Trump, who is promising to soon detail his tax plan, has said he wants to crack down on hedge fund managers, who typically pay taxes on capital gains, which are taxed at 20 percent, rather than on income, which tops out at 39.6 percent for the highest earners.
“They’re paying nothing and it’s ridiculous. I want to save the middle class,” Trump said last week on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”
Bush’s strategy carries risks. Trump is a businessman who has not played by any of the traditional rules of politics and has demonstrated resilient support even after making comments that would have ended most other political campaigns.
After Bush launched his attack, Trump later sent out a brief clip of Bush thanking and praising Hillary Rodham Clinton as “someone who has devoted her life to public service,” and of President George W. Bush laughing and calling her “my sister-in-law.”
“No more Clintons or Bushes!” Trump wrote.
Until very recently Bush’s style in his first presidential bid has been cautious and methodical, at times seeming almost lethargic. Despite the exclamation point he put after his name on his campaign logo, Bush has struggled to excite crowds or draw widespread attention.
Even while he has amassed traditional measures of strength — a big lead in campaign donations and a respected staff of campaign aides — supporters have worried about his lack of fire, his shifting answers, and an inability to deal with the inevitable questions about a third Bush presidency.
“This is what responsible leaders do: Trump needs to be repudiated,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who is unaligned. “Responsible Republicans need to stand up to him. And I’m tired of other candidates who have been pandering . . . or refusing to stand up to him because they’re wimping out.”
Trump has alternately said Bush is weak, clueless, and lackluster. Bush supporters said the new strategy shows that is wrong.
“Bush is demonstrating that Donald Trump really has no core beliefs. Not as a conservative, not as a Republican — I’d venture to say he’s not really anything,” said Jamie Burnett, a New Hampshire-based Republican operative who is supporting Bush. “He’s just Trump. And will push any button he thinks will draw a headline and get him on TV. That might be great political theater but it’s certainly not emblematic of what you would want in your president.”
Bush recently had come to embrace a tortoise analogy for his campaign. He even received an e-mail after the first GOP debate from his brother, George W., saying, “Well done, Tortoise.”
“That’s my new nickname because I told him I’m the tortoise in the race: slow, steady progress,” Jeb Bush said on Fox News last month. “Stay focused, stay steady, do the right thing each and every day.”
This week has featured Bush as a snapping turtle.
“Somebody has to do it,” said Tim Miller, the Bush campaign’s communications director. Trump “is a big government liberal who is completely unserious that is dominating the discussion in our presidential primary. Everybody is just hoping that it’s going to go away. So we are going to take on that fight.
“There will be more to come,” he added. “We’re going to continue to turn up the heat on Trump.”