Jeb Bush, the smart one, the one everybody thought would become president, the tall one, the handsome one, the bilingual one, the academic one, the governor of a major southern swing state, is on the verge of irrelevance in the 2016 Republican presidential campaign.
It’s tragic, in a way. Because, I suspect, should Bush become president, he would probably be a good one. He’s a flexible thinker – an undervalued trait in this GOP field – and he sees nuance in the world. He may be wrong, but he seems to get that it’s not a reality TV show.
Maybe it is now.
The top two Republican candidates in the race, the silly and embarrassing Donald Trump, and the clueless and passive Ben Carson, must not have entered into Bush’s planning a year ago. After all, who could have predicted that Bush would be fighting for fourth place, or worse?
Bush must have thought that he’d be wrestling with Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Chris Christie or maybe even Sen. Rand Paul. Maybe, to a lesser extent, Sen. Ted Cruz, or even Sen. Marco Rubio, who is about 30 years shy of Jeb Bush’s experience.
Bush’s main problem is his flat-footedness in nearly every moment he needs to be stellar. His moment of confrontation with Trump in response to the billionaire’s disparagement of Bush’s wife was Dukakis-esque in its catatonic tone. Bush’s light tap of Rubio’s Senate attendance record in the third debate was predictable and easily parried.
Now Bush looks like he’s not only behind, he looks like he’s going to lose.
That’s an event that not even the most optimistic Democratic planners had hoped for. Recall just six months ago all the talk: “Oh, golly, a choice between two branded dynasties? Snore.”
Bush’s implosion is more poignant, in a way, because many think he really could have been the 2000 GOP nominee, and that his big brother might not have even rated a glance had Jeb not lost his first race for governor of Florida.
The reason Jeb Bush isn’t a former two-term president is that he made lots of mistakes in 1994. For example, when asked what he would do for African Americans in Florida, he said “probably nothing.” He also picked a too-conservative lieutenant governor running mate. Bush lost to incumbent Gov. Lawton Chiles by only 63,000 votes out of more than 4 million cast.
His brother was elected governor of Texas.
George W. Bush may not be the most academic president we’ve had, but he has a schmooze IQ that’s off the charts. Jeb Bush needs an exclamation point in his slogan to communicate energy and charm.
In 1998, Jeb Bush ran again to lead Florida and tacked to the center, courted African Americans, and played it smart and safe. He won, but his older brother was already being talked up for the presidency.
Jeb Bush got lapped.
And now here he is, wondering how could he have missed Trump? Carson? The comic lunacy of this cycle?
He missed it before, and he’s missing it now. Last week, his family convened a campaign summit to figure out a strategy. The answer? It’s obvious.
Jeb Bush isn’t any good at this. Period. Or, exclamation point!
And he won’t get another shot, most likely. Bush once said, “I’m not, you know, a gregarious guy, who needs the energy of a crowd to make me feel fulfilled. I’d rather read a 20-page policy brief.” Clearly.
Jeb Bush, get ready to have lots and lots of time to read 20-page policy briefs.
There are a lot of them at the George W. Bush Presidential Library.