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Trump vs. Bush: Will real conservative please stand up?

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Dominick Reuter/Reuters

(Read caption) Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a VFW town-hall event in Merrimack, N.H., on Wednesday. The Republican candidate for president told the audience that rival Donald Trump 'doesn’t have a proven conservative record.'

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Jeb Bush versus Donald Trump: Who’s the real conservative?

That’s the question former Florida Governor Bush wants Republican voters to ask themselves when weighing candidate options. Or New Hampshire voters, at least: At a town-hall meeting in the Granite State on Wednesday, Bush had combative words for The Donald in regard to the latter’s past political positions, which have included support for tax increases and kind words about single-payer health care.

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“Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record. He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican. He’s given more money to Democrats than he’s given to Republicans,” Bush said at his Merrimack appearance.

That’s Bush’s hardest slap at Trump to date. Perhaps Bush has decided it’s time to take the golf gloves off and mix it up a bit with the man who’s now leading GOP polls.

After all, a Bush loss in New Hampshire would batter his presidential chances. And right now, he’s trailing Trump there by 13.5 points, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is only one point behind Bush, and coming up fast.

Hence the Bush team’s new “we’re the rightmost” strategy.

“Jeb Bush PAC launches campaign defining him as a real conservative, as he brands Donald Trump a closet D. Play is clear. Will it work?” tweeted out ex-Obama adviser David Axelrod on Thursday.

We’re unsure. On the one hand, it’s true that Trump has espoused Democratic policies in the past. The Clintons attended his most recent wedding. Some Republicans might think that’s as bad as Chris Christie’s Obama hug.

But when this comes up, Trump’s insouciant reply is that sure, he was a Democrat once. So was Ronald Reagan.

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And in terms of current hot-button issues, it’s Bush, not Trump, who needs to convince the right of his bona fides.

Bush’s support of a path to legal status for undocumented workers is anathema to many conservatives. Trump, meanwhile, wants to end birthright citizenship, force Mexico to wall itself off from the United States, and deport everyone who shouldn’t be in the country.

Bush has also backed Common Core educational standards, a position at odds with many GOP voters. Trump has called Common Core a “disaster."

Plus, Trump’s got his own countertactics against Bush’s ideology attack. It’s more personal: Bush is boring. He isn’t.

“You know what’s happening to Jeb Bush’s crowd just down the street?” Trump said at his own New Hampshire town hall Wednesday. “They’re sleeping!”

Trump went on to describe Bush as “low energy” – a kind of personal attack, reminiscent of the 1988 GOP campaign when some rivals charged that George H.W. Bush was too wimpy to be president.

Mr. Bush won that election, of course. But in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Trump drew a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than Jeb.

“While most candidates pretend – at least this early in the game – to adhere to a certain level of decorum and shy away from putting fellow candidates down, Trump knows no boundaries,” writes National Journal’s Lauren Fox.