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Moderates in the GOP establishment class introduced Jeb Bush to Republican voters as a fait accompli. No other candidate could compete with his zillion-dollar war chest. No one else could field competitive organizations in so many early primary states. No grassroots-fueled insurgent could best Team Jeb’s coalition of Wall Street money, Beltway insiders, and seasoned consultants.
Considering these massive advantages, Jeb viewed the primary race as a formality to endure until he faced his friendly rival Hillary late next summer. Considering himself the most conservative Bush family member, the aggressively pro-life and pro-school choice Florida governor tacked sharply to the center two years before the general election. Having sat on the sidelines for the entire Obama era, Bush had completely lost touch with his own party.
Out in the states, Republican voters loathed the top-down bureaucracy of Common Core. Bush proudly reaffirmed his support for the DC mandate. Conservatives criticized the elites’ enthusiasm for comprehensive immigration reform, suggesting it was amnesty by a different name. Bush defiantly promised he wouldn’t change his immigration positions one iota. “Are we supposed to just cower because at the moment people are all upset about something?” Jeb asked at a Club for Growth meeting. “No way, no how.”
There’s an old saying in marketing that no matter how great your ad campaign or how vast your budget, the product will fail if the dogs won’t eat the dog food. Watching Jeb flail over the past few months, he looks a lot like a bad bag of Alpo.
In May, journalists asked if Jeb agreed with his brother’s Iraq policy. This is the most obvious question for any GOP candidate running, let alone a guy with the last name Bush. Yes! I mean, no! Wait… it depends! Every day he switched his answer, dragging the pain over several news cycles and causing collateral damage to the Republican brand.
In July, Jeb asserted that “people have to work longer hours and, through productivity, gain more income for their families.” When attacked for the Scrooge-like line, he complained to the press that the quote was taken out of context. Of course the media took it out of context; that’s what they do to Republican candidates, especially post-Obama. He was bewildered when the MSM didn’t correct the record to help him. Why, it’s as if these reporters aren’t objective!
In August, religious conservatives asked Jeb if he would defund Planned Parenthood, following the release of several grisly sting videos. “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Jeb replied, using the pro-abortion lobby’s euphemism for killing babies and selling the parts. Again surprised at the backlash, Jeb apologized, and reiterated his decades-old pro-life record. Democrats gleefully promoted the Jeb quote as another example of the GOP’s “war on women.”
Then, at the first GOP debate, the mighty Jeb steamroller seemed almost a non-factor despite getting more airtime than everyone but the bombastic Donald Trump. Bush blandly recited talking points over a weak smile as other candidates sparred with each other, tangled with the moderators, and dropped devastating quips at the expense of the Democrats. Jeb would have seemed more at home in the B-team debate, reading white papers alongside low-wattage also-rans George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.
After donor concerns about Jeb’s weak polling, he belatedly decided to take swings at the frontrunner Trump. His attempt to play the alpha male might as well have included the stage direction “Message: I fight.” Jeb’s opening attack criticized the reality-show populist for not being a doctrinaire Republican. Does Bush not realize this is why people support The Donald?
Then, with the media freaking out over the offensive-as-of-yesterday term “anchor baby,” Jeb finally decided to stand tough. To prove the term wasn’t anti-Hispanic he said, “frankly it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country — having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.” Mexicans aren’t the issue; it’s those darn Asians I have a problem with!
Trump, who never met a subgroup he wasn’t eager to offend, chastised Jeb for the intolerant rhetoric. Again, Bush whined he was being taken out of context, having learned nothing from the past decade of identity politics and increasingly activist newsrooms.
The issue with Jeb isn’t that he’s the choice of the reviled GOP establishment, but that he doesn’t realize the establishment is reviled. It’s not that Jeb’s political skills are rusty, but that, despite all his missteps, he still doesn’t realize he’s a decade out of step. It’s not that Jeb was blindsided by the Trump phenomenon, but that he is unable to adapt to the unexpected.
Jeb seems like a nice man. He had an excellent tenure as governor many years ago. But it’s obvious that his heart is not in this race, he doesn’t understand our Alinskyite political climate, and he is confused by both his base and modern media. The longer he vies for the nomination, the more he hurts himself and the GOP.
For the good of his country and his party, Bush needs to sit 2016 out.