The New Hampshire Republican party drew seven presidential candidates to a town hall held two weeks ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Candidates participating included Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore. Chris Christie cancelled, returning to New Jersey as a major snowstorm hit his state, with his wife Mary Pat Christie appearing on his behalf.
Monday was the last day of the notion-bending year-long campaign leading to the New Hampshire presidential primary. Republican candidates have for months decried the condition of America, denouncing Barack Obama for what they see as destruction wreaked on the U.S. that has pushed the country to the edge of a precipice. With New Hampshire voting those dire descriptions will end, at least for the Granite State, as the campaign rolls on to South Carolina, Nevada and beyond.
Who’s rising, who’s falling and who will exceed expectations? Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie all had good days in the last moments of the New Hampshire primary, but they face a dual challenge of trying to shove past the other two governors and simultaneously trying to catch up to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Here are a few impressions from the candidates’ closing appearances.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush hosted a town hall today with an audience of about 400 people. Filling a middle school cafeteria in Bedford, New Hampshire, the audience appeared quite supportive of Bush.
Town halls and rallies have been increasing in size as the Tuesday New Hampshire primary approaches, with Bush seeing his audiences grow. His poll numbers have also improved, although it’s more in the nature of a modest rising rather than a surge. He’s battling with two current governors, Ohio’s John Kasich and New Jersey’s Chris Christie for dominance of what is essentially a second tier behind Trump, Cruz and Rubio. With two days to go Bush faces a critical moment Tuesday, with a weak or modest showing likely to end his campaign.
“Man up.” That was Jeb Bush’s response Monday night to complaints that ads attacking his rivals and produced by a super PAC supporting him are “slime.” Earlier Monday fellow candidate John Kasich had condemned an ad from a super PAC supporting Kasich and called on Bush and Chris Christie to “take their negative nonsense off television.” While giving nominal support to condemning “slime” Bush said that he had not seen any ads constituting “slime” and urged his fellow candidates to “toughen up and stop complaining.” Saying “this is not bean bag here,” Bush appeared completely comfortable with such attacks.
As he spoke with a supporter after the town hall Bush gave a brief mocking response, saying in a baby voice “it’s hurting my feelings.”
Here’s Bush’s response during the town hall:
Here’s Bush’s later response:
Update – Photo Gallery:
Jeb Bush held a town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire Thursday evening, engaging his audience and finding support yet tangled in his many challenges. Bush spoke to about 150-200 people for an hour and 20 minutes, with another 25 minutes spent saying hello, shaking hands, taking pictures and at times hugging everyone who wanted to do so.
Bush has many strengths; he’s skilled at retail politics and the back and forth of a town hall, with substantial experience as a two-term governor and knowledge of many issues and topics. He continues to be hampered by his weak points, however. Foremost among those weak points is a decidedly different personality from what voters have, so far anyway, indicated that they are looking for in a 2016 Republican candidate. He’s not low-energy but he is largely low emotion, seemingly interested in ideas, data, how to change things and not structured around visceral anger. In a campaign season dominated by Donald Trump’s disgust at the state of America and Ted Cruz’s attacks on government tyranny the analytical Bush is a man adrift.
Jeb Bush gave a lengthy answer to a town hall questioner Thursday night who urged Jeb to engage and embrace his father and brother in his campaign. The woman, who described herself as a “Bushophile” and brought pictures dating from the 1980s or 1990s of her own mother with George W. Bush, Laura Bush and Barbara Bush, captured Bush’s quandary well.
Dismissing what “the liberals are saying, that you ran home to mummy and had a meeting”, she affectionately described George W. Bush in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. “Your mother probably didn’t approve of you calling Trump a jerk, even though he is” the questioner added as her query unfolded. “She probably did approve. Trust me, I have first hand knowledge of this” replied Jeb.
Saying that he “love[s] them dearly” Bush spoke fondly about about his presidential relatives and reflected on the necessity of neither under or over relying on them and the oddity of having a third president from the same family. Declaring that he’s “not running away from them” Jeb described George W. as the “most popular Republican in the United States today” and said that he expects to campaign with him. (In a post-town hall Q&A Jeb said that no such plans are yet in place, however.)
Video – Here’s the full question and response:
His family figured prominently in the question topics, beginning with Bush’s mention during the town hall that his mother Barbara will appear in a campaign ad scheduled for release Friday. Saying that “it’s good to get an endorsement from your mother” Bush said that he has not seen the ad and does not know what it’s content is. Bush was also asked about his brother, former president George W. Bush. Jeb said that he expected to have George W. campaigning for him, but that plans for doing so have not been made. When asked whether he regarded his brother’s presidency a success and what elements he would seek to emulate in his own presidency Bush skipped replying on an overall assessment of the Bush 43 presidency, instead saying “the focus on building a homeland security structure that kept us safe, that avoided further attacks is probably the greatest accomplishment that my brother had,” along with “restoring a constant vigilant effort to protect the homeland”.
Bush was also asked about illegal immigration and the effect of the use of a “non-detained docket”, whether his father’s recent comment that he’s “mellowing out” on same-sex marriage affects Jeb’s view and for a reaction to to former Senator Bob Dole’s description of a Cruz nomination as “cataclysmic” for the Republican party. He avoided the issue of a Cruz nomination, focusing only on saying that he’ll win it over Cruz.
As Bush was departing he was asked if he’s having fun and what the best part of tonight’s town hall. As he wrapped up his answer and again moved toward the door a final, killer question rang out: “Why do you think 4 out of 5 dentists in Florida prefer you over Rubio?”
An audience member and Jeb Bush traded New England-accented “Pat Benahtahhh”‘s during a recent town hall. As she rose to ask a question on term limits Bush blurted out “what’s that t-shirt.” Her reply prompted a repeat from Bush, while her question prompted a fist-pump, swaying and a “praise the Lord” from Bush. It also elicited support for congressional term limits, a constitutional convention and praise for the role of term limits in Florida.
His world has been torn asunder and he’s not quite sure what to do about it. Among Jeb Bush’s observations at a recent town hall was the somewhat stilted characterization that “the world has been torn asunder.” There’s truth in that statement, but it’s not the way that other candidates or most voters would say it.
Jeb Bush is a candidate out of sync with the current mood in his party who, notwithstanding some significant strengths, continues to struggle at gaining traction as the New Hampshire primary approaches. He held a lengthy town hall Friday night in Hollis, New Hampshire, speaking with about 200 people for an hour and a half. Casting himself as the “only guy taking Donald Trump on”, Bush argued that both electorally and substantively the Republican Party and the country will ultimately decide that they want “a serious leader” and that he is that “serious leader.” His audience was very attentive and receptive, starting and ending with a standing ovation for Bush, but mostly they listened as he spoke for about 20 minutes and then answered 16 questions over an hour and ten minutes.
“Narcissism, a sociopath.” That was how a Jeb Bush town hall questioner characterized Donald Trump Friday night. Bush gave an extended answer, with some compliments of Trump while dismissing him as utterly unprepared to be commander-in-chief.
Saying “[t]his is the point in time where I feel compelled to say something nice about Donald Trump”, Bush called him “a talent … gifted” in respect of his communication ability and also, somewhat awkwardly, lauded him for his financial success. Bush then moved on to less a complimentary assessment, describing Trump’s unfamiliarity with the nuclear triad as “scary.”
This small rugged state teeming with presidential aspirants offers visitors unique proximity to question, praise, berate or hug the next American president.
The presidential campaign has been running in high gear for months, but New Yorkers see it only from afar. Candidate visits to New York are almost entirely out of public view, primarily for fundraising and TV appearances. New Yorkers hoping to see candidates in person can visit campaign country, however, with New Hampshire the closest corner of campaign country and just a short drive away.
Sunday 8:15 a.m. – On The Road
Meet a fellow reporter just north of New York City and drive through western Connecticut north into Massachusetts. Watch for the plentiful state troopers on I-91. Don’t let the genius political arguments bandied about distract you from the speedometer.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – Your New Friend Irving
A stop awaits before the first campaign event – a visit to an Irving, the ubiquitous gas station/convenience store. Gourmet it’s not, but Irving offers a quick, clean stop for hot coffee, cold seltzer and a cellophane wrapped sandwich. With lots of driving between five events efficiency is a key to success. Pro-tip: Always get two sandwiches, one for now, one to tuck in your bag for a pre-candidate town hall boost.
Sunday 1:00 p.m. – Dr. Ben Carson
Keene State College is dead quiet on a Sunday morning, notwithstanding an imminent presidential candidate appearance. With Secret Service protection and security screenings for Carson, entering his town hall is a lengthier process. About 30 minutes ahead of his town hall, only 30 or so people are in the auditorium. “Don’t worry, they’ll be here after church” says an early arrival and indeed a crowd of 200+ materialized by 1:00. Chatting with attendees it appears that his audience is significantly centered around faith, both their own and Carson’s.
“I’ve got a few questions for you, then I’d like to make a statement and have you respond to the statement.” So began a lengthy back and forth between Jeb Bush and a man at his Alton, New Hampshire town hall Monday night.
Bush’s questioner, who identified himself as Joe Castagnaro from Gilford, New Hampshire, had some preliminary questions on term limits, taxpayer funded elections and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) but his deepest focus was on Wall Street “crimes” and the repealed Glass-Steagall Act. His description of asking Hillary Clinton whether she “would she reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act that her dirtbag husband repealed” drew some giggles from Bush and the audience.
Castagnaro passionately described the 2008 financial crisis as not a “bubble … crisis … [or] meltdown” but a “crime” that bankers should be in jail for. He also declared that “when you’re president you’ll take your orders from” Wall Street.
Bush demonstrated some political deftness in the exchange, engaging his questioner and somewhat adopting the questioner’s concerns, but the moment also illustrates why Bush has had such a rough time. He’s more naturally attuned to the financial services industry goal of deregulation than to the visceral anger and distrust of a man who has had his home foreclosed on. That anger is the dominant pulse of the 2016 race and it’s just not Bush’s. It’s also the case that Bush and his questioner fundamentally disagree on increasing financial regulation. While both appear to want credit to be more readily available to borrowers, in reality they represent fundamentally different approaches. Bush seeks a freer market, believing that will allow banks and other lenders to flourish with a resulting bounty of credit. His questioner appeared to believe that stricter regulation and control of banks, accompanied by increased criminal prosecutions, is the path to easier credit. While those views share a rejection of the recent past and current market, they’re ultimately dramatically divergent.
His town hall was well done in a nice setting with solid production and a crowd that perfectly packed the modest sized room to capacity, but this exchange ultimately demonstrates that he’s trying to grab onto the current Zeitgeist, not generating it.
Toward the end of their exchange Castagnaro said there’s “nothing I would rather do than vote for you”, but that the only two candidates tuned in to his view of “taking down the Wall Street banks” are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
“A president is a decider.” That was part of Jeb Bush’s answer when asked about a possible vice presidential selection. Terming it “an important decision”, Bush emphasized the general principle of selecting a running mate “qualified” to be president and who works well with the presidential nominee. He noted that some presidential/vice presidential candidate pairings have “kinda gotten ugly”, but did not identify any such pairings. He lauded the Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush team, but did not mention George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
He also threw in a few jabs at Donald Trump, saying that “you win when you campaign like this” while spreading his arms, adding “you don’t win when you’re campaigning like this” while wagging his finger. In case his point wasn’t clear, Bush added “[y]ou don’t win when you’re the large dog in the room, when it’s all about you … how great you are … how rich you are.”
Bush spoke at a recent town hall meeting in Keene, New Hampshire.