By Steve Holland
MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - Republican Jeb Bush’s new campaign ad ridiculing Donald Trump as a “germophobe” and Democrat-in-disguise is just the start of what will be a bigger onslaught, signaling a more aggressive stance by the candidate, Bush advisers said on Wednesday.
Some confidants of the former Florida governor have been seething for weeks at Trump’s taunts and attacks on Bush. They have been urging the campaign to shift from the cautious approach that has distinguished Bush's early months as a candidate.
The two men are among 17 candidates for the Republican nomination in the November 2016 presidential election.
Bush's confidants have been dismayed that Bush was being portrayed as a moderate when in fact his record in Florida is clearly a conservative one, said a Republican who has informally advised the Bush team in the past.
"There has been an internal decision to go after Trump," the source said. "They want to fight."
The real estate mogul’s description of Bush as a “low-energy" candidate hit a particularly raw nerve, convincing Bush that now is the time to take the gloves off when it comes to Trump.
"He tries to personalize everything," Bush told reporters in Miami on Tuesday. "If you're not totally in agreement with him you're an idiot, or stupid, or don't have energy, or blah blah blah."
For the second day in a row on Wednesday, the Bush campaign went to social media to tweak Trump. It posted a quiz on Facebook that compared and contrasted Trump and Bush on the issues, making the point that Bush has a clear conservative record.
It ended with a jibe related to reports that Trump has an aversion to shaking hands.
"Would you rather support a candidate who strives to shake every hand everywhere or is a germophobe when it comes to shaking hands?" the ad said.
Bush insiders say voters can expect to see a far feistier Jeb who is eager to take on Trump both over the airwaves and on the campaign trail.
"The reality is that Mr. Trump is a legitimate candidate and therefore he should receive legitimate scrutiny," a campaign aide said. "The governor is pointing out that Mr. Trump very clearly is New York liberal much like Hillary Clinton."
BUSH'S '100 MILLION REASONS'
The more aggressive approach has allowed Bush to display the "fire in the belly" that his supporters have been wanting to see after he was viewed as too passive at the first Republican debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland.
"I think Jeb kinda needs it," said a major Bush campaign donor who asked to remain unidentified. "I think people want to see Jeb get irritated and I think he is irritated and rightly so and they want to see that emotional side."
Trump has seemed to target Bush more than any of the other Republican presidential candidates, suggesting he sees Bush as his main rival.
His summer rise has taken its toll on Bush in surveys of Republican voters with five months to go until Iowa holds the first nominating contest on the road to the November 2016 election.
An average of recent opinion polls by Real Clear Politics puts Bush in third place with 9.5 percent, behind Trump at 26.5 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 12 percent.
The latest Reuters-Ipsos poll had similar results, with Trump at 30.6 percent, Carson at 12.5 percent and Bush at 11.5 percent.
Trump, in tweets and TV interviews, has dismissed Bush's more aggressive approach. In an interview with Breitbart News, he said Bush should lead by speaking English in the United States. The bilingual Bush frequently launches into Spanish at campaign events.
With his Super PAC flush with more than $100 million and preparing an ad blitz in key states this month, Republicans say it is far too early to write off Bush.
"I can give you a hundred million reasons how Jeb Bush can fight back into this race," said Republican strategist Scott Reed.
Bush on Thursday will hold two town hall meetings in New Hampshire, a state whose first-in-the-nation primary in February comes only days after the Iowa caucuses. Bush needs to do well in New Hampshire, particularly since he is lagging in Iowa.
Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said Bush's decision to take on Trump was welcomed since the other Republican candidates have largely shied away from taking him on.
"This is what leaders do," Cullen said.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)