As Donald Trump flew to the Mexico border — ensuring what he would probably call the biggest, classiest, most impressive headlines of the day — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was making a few superlative stops of his own: checking out the longest candy counter in the world, visiting the oldest ski store in the country and talking to a few dozen voters in the shadow of the largest mountain in New England.
It was decidedly lower-key campaigning, and Bush said he’s okay with that.
“I’m the tortoise in the race,” he told a gaggle of voters and media outside of Lahout's ski shop in Littleton, N.H. “Slow and steady progress each and every day.”
This has been the New Hampshire mantra for Bush all along, and one he repeated a number of times on his five-stop tour through the North Country on Thursday. And he can’t complain about the results at this early stage. While many of his opponents have been on a polling roller coaster here in the first-in-the-nation primary state, Bush has held steady. He's currently leading the pack at about 16 percent in the most recent surveys.
So when asked outside of the ski shop whether Trump was really just running to promote a new reality show called “Political Apprentice,” Bush didn’t take the bait.
“I think he’s a serious candidate and he’s going to have a lot of money,” he said. “He’s tapping into people’s angst, which is legitimate. But I don’t think you win by denigrating people, I don’t think you win by tearing us apart. You have to give concrete proposals that allow people to rise up”
Over his two days this week in New Hampshire — a state seen as central to his nomination hopes — Bush spent plenty of time talking about his own proposals. At an event for Americans for Prosperity, Bush didn’t seem afraid to stultify his audience with wonkery.
He knocked the Export-Import Bank, talked about the importance of the sharing economy, and said he was for simplifying the tax code. At a VFW he talked about the need to rebuild the nation’s military, and took questions from climate activists who were happy that he wanted to eliminate federal subsidies for fossil fuels, but displeased that he wanted to do the same for renewable engergy. He promised a woman at a town hall that he wouldn’t take away her guns, and got into an exchange with a woman angry that he wanted to “phase out” Medicare (he preferred to say “reform” Medicare).
He wasn't without some controversy. When asked whether Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley should have to apologize for saying "all lives matter," a perceived slight to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, Bush said "of course not."
"We're so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying 'lives matter?'" asked Bush.
The challenge here is the same one that's bedeviled his campaign from the start: how to paint himself as something new and fresh as a member of a political family that's long been familiar to New Hampshire voters. He uses words like “disruption” and talks about how great Uber is. He speaks in Spanish and talks about how Republicans cannot survive without reaching out to the Latino community. He told one voter that he supported term limits for Congress, because it’s important to get new blood into positions of power.
“The talent that exists in Florida’s legislature is better [because of it],” he said.
Of course, it’s not the easiest argument for Bush to make, since his name is synonymous with the past. It’s become a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true, that his surname is both his biggest asset and his biggest liability.
“I voted for Prescott, H.W., your brother, and possibly you,” Bill Remick, a former local politician, told Bush as he walked into the VFW.
“Possibly?” Bush’s communications director Tim Miller asked him. “What do we need to do? Why possibly?”
“Well, I just met him,” said Remick.