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The Week In Politics: Bush, Trump And Rubio Trade Jabs

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, you just heard our roundtable talk about the Democrats, but the Republicans are still making headlines, especially with primary voting less than four months away. The candidates are sharpening their attacks on rivals. That was particularly evident this week in the words we heard from three prominent GOP hopefuls - Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Donald Trump holds nothing back in life and in his current run for the GOP nomination. In a week when he introduced a new tax plan, he got most attention for something he did at a rally in Keene, N.H. Trump was talking about Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

PRES CAND DONALD TRUMP: So Bush is the mentor of Rubio.

GONYEA: He's referring to the fact that they both come out of Florida politics. Bush was governor a decade ago, as Rubio rose through state politics before moving on to the U.S. Senate. Trump then mimics Bush talking about Rubio.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

TRUMP: He's my dear friend. He's so wonderful. I love him so much.

GONYEA: Then...

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

TRUMP: So they ask, Rubio, what do you think of Bush? Oh, he's my dear friend.

GONYEA: Which leads to Trump's main point about the phoniness of politics and politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

TRUMP: They hate each other. They hate - trust me, I know. They hate so much. They hate more than anybody in this room hates their neighbor. Any - but it's political [expletive]. Do you understand? It's true. It's true.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: It's a moment that gets to the nature of Trump's take-no-prisoners outsider a repeal. Yes, plenty of candidates have been caught spouting such language off mic or backstage. But for Trump, it was part of the show at a rally at the local high school. As if on cue, though, the Bush-Rubio relationship is showing signs of fraying - the one-time front-runner, Bush, has watched the younger Rubio rise in the polls and in stature after two televised debates. On CNN this week, Bush pointed to Rubio's brief tenure as a first-term U.S. Senator. He says it's a matter of experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES CAND JEB BUSH: Look, we've had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing - new and improved, hope and change. And he didn't have the leadership skills to fix things.

GONYEA: So there it is, Jeb Bush hurling the ultimate Republican insult - by comparing Rubio to President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: What we need is someone with proven leadership to fix things, and I believe I have the skills.

GONYEA: Which brings us to Rubio. He appeared on NPR's Morning Edition this week to talk about Syria and said Obama's inaction has strengthened Russia's hand in the region. But in that interview, he was also asked about Trump and the billionaire candidate's repeated attacks on him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SEN/PRES CAND MARCO RUBIO: (Laughter) Well look, I'm not interested in the back-and-forth to be a member or part of his freak show. I would just say this...

GONYEA: Then, Rubio does jump in - with both feet - calling Trump a sensitive person who responds to any criticism very poorly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RUBIO: But this election's not going to be about Donald Trump. He thinks it is. But it's not about him. It has to be about the issues confronting our country, and my sense of it is that every time that issues become prominent, he will say something outrageous or do something outrageous so that he doesn't have to talk about the issues.

GONYEA: And in such a crowded field, these candidates won't allow attacks to go unanswered. With 16 weeks until the Iowa caucuses, there'll be lots of skirmishes, some large, some small, and lots of opportunities to show they're ready to fight.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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