Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and his team launched an offensive on Donald Trump during the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night.
Trump, who is leading polls of the GOP primary field, has been feuding with Bush throughout the campaign. The pair began to spar on stage soon after the debate began when Bush accused Trump of giving him campaign contributions in an attempt to push for casino gambling in Florida.
Bush’s team subsequently launched web ads based on the accusation, and one of his advisers told Business Insider that push is just the beginning.
“The one guy that had some special interest that I know of – that tried to get me my views on something, that was generous and gave me money – was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida,” Bush said.
Bush went on to claim he wasn’t swayed by Trump’s cash.
“You wanted it and you didn’t get it, because I was opposed to casino gambling before, during, and after!” Bush said.
Trump denied he pushed for casino gambling in Florida and said he “would have gotten it” if he did. However, Bush’s campaign team immediately pounced.
Moments after the exchange, Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger sent reporters a CNN article. The story described Bush as “the man who killed Trump’s casino dreams” in Florida. Bush’s senior strategist David Kochel also tweeted out the CNN story and vowed there was “more to come.” Christopher Georgia, Bush’s digital director, jumped in next. He copied Kochel’s tweet and declared that he was “turning ads on.”
According to Bush’s communications director, Tim Miller, the offensive launched by Georgia consisted of ads tied to web searches that directed viewers to a page featuring a video of the debate exchange. Miller also told Business Insider that Bush’s team plans to keep attacking Trump on the issue.
“Trump wanted casino gambling, Jeb took a principled stand,” Miller said.
Trump has argued his vast personal fortune prevents him from being influenced by special interests. To bolster this argument, Trump has pointed to donations he made to political candidates and said it allowed him to extract favors from them. Trump has also claimed he has extensive negotiating skills and made this one of the central themes of his candidacy. Because of this, Miller argued the failure of casino gambling in Florida “undermines his entire argument.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the casino attack. However, Bush’s team clearly aren’t the only ones who think it could be a strong argument. After Trump and Bush clashed onstage, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser and campaign strategist for President Barack Obama, tweeted a prediction that the attack could be a strong one for Bush.
“If @jebbush has backup on casino charge against @realDonaldtrump, it could have legs,” Axelrod said.