My American Spectator column is up this morning, and it’s on the GOP debate last night.
There are many variables surrounding the debate participants and whether their performance will have a major effect on the state of the still-crowded GOP race, but one thing appears immutably clear — and that is the growing inevitability of Jeb Bush’s demise as a major presidential candidate.
The fact is, Jeb just doesn’t have it.
It’s not that he can’t present policy solutions; he can. Jeb Bush has put out some very good — and very conservative — policy. What he can’t do, unfortunately, is articulate them with force and verve.
We thought Jeb’s brother, who managed to get elected and re-elected before leaving office with a 22 percent approval rating and a party in shambles wide open to lose to Barack Hussein Obama, of all people, was inarticulate. George W. used to sound like he had marbles in his mouth half the time, but until the weight of the foreign overreaches in Iraq and Afghanistan and the demoralization of his own base dragged him down he at least had some charm about him, in a “he ain’t perfect but he’s a nice guy and he’s tryin’” sort of way.
With Jeb, there is none of that. He doesn’t think on his feet, he can’t speak with passion, he looks tired and beaten and it’s clear he’s not enjoying the campaign. That doesn’t make him a bad person; no normal human being would put himself through the hell we’ve made a modern political race into.
But if you’re going to shake people down for some $100 million in PAC money, it does behoove you not to suck. And unfortunately, that’s what Jeb has done for most of this campaign and he absolutely did it in Boulder.
How bad did it get for Jeb? This bad. He tried to damage Rubio over a rather stupid issue ginned up by the Washington media and furthered by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Ft. Lauderdale, namely that the Senator has missed a sizable number of (basically meaningless) votes while working the road. Rubio was in the process of swatting away a question about the Sun-Sentinel’s editorial demanding that he resign by noting that the paper had been far more forgiving of missed votes in the Senate by John Kerry and Barack Obama when they were running for president, something that got the crowd rolling, and along came Bush to lunge face-first into a buzzsaw. He whined that Rubio was cheating him as a constituent, which will resonate with no one — you’re a politician running against him for president, not his constituent, and nobody cares about your problems — and when Rubio’s belittling answer came (“Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you”), Bush’s body language looked almost like he’d been punched in the beans.
Ace of Spades described the Rubio-Bush beatdown well…
dear police, i need to report a rape I just saw a young hispanic man rape an old stuttering white man on tv
— TheModernMan (@AceofSpadesHQ) October 29, 2015
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the video…
That’s the end of Jeb Bush. As I said in my column, he’s almost a foot taller than Rubio and the better part of 20 years older, and he was completely eviscerated and made the beta male in that transaction.
And that’s the end of him. He has nowhere to go now but out of the race.
Jeb Bush has $98 million left in his Super PAC’s war chest, but that money will only be wasted supporting a presidential bid that is now hopeless. He’s no longer a major candidate for the Republicans in 2016.
What does this mean? Back to the column…
This matters, because it puts paid to the entire narrative of the 2016 GOP race as it was built from the outset and the assumptions surrounding that narrative that have informed voter behavior to date.
Jeb Bush as the inevitable GOP nominee, the Establishment choice that the grassroots is powerless to combat, is the single largest factor animating Donald Trump’s rise in the polls. That rise may or may not have stalled, as multiple polls show that Ben Carson has either caught him or passed him (though there is still disagreement on this point), but the race has for quite some time been cast to Republican voters as a choice between Bush the establishmentarian and Trump the iconoclast. Trump has profited greatly from that proposition, and it has fueled his ascent to the top of the polls.
But that is no longer how this race is perceived, because no one sees Bush as inevitable anymore. And if that’s the case, voters terrified of a Mitt Romney-style fix being in are now free to vote for the candidate they’d really like to see win instead of playing defense and supporting the one they think can stop the candidate they’re terrified of.
Jeb going away, whether this week or in the coming weeks after the inevitability of his status as a minor candidate has taken its toll, changes both the race and the motivation of the voters. The moderate/Establishment vote no longer has a receptacle and is now going to settle on someone else but the obvious candidate, and this is something of a first in recent GOP history. Usually, that vote has gone exactly where it was expected to go and that basically decided the race for the nomination. You could argue that the moderate/Establishment vote was supposed to go to Rudy Giuliani in 2008, but he fizzled so early and there was competition for that vote from Mitt Romney, who positioned himself as more of a conservative, but even with its disastrous state in the early going John McCain was the one next in line that year and McCain had been put forth as the centrist the party had to nominate if it was going to hold the White House.
Other than that (and it’s probably more accurate to say including that), the Establishment has produced the nominee in every election cycle since Reagan. Dissatisfaction with which has been what’s driven the GOP voters into the hands of the most unconventional candidates they can find.
The only way there will be an “establishment” candidate nominated this time is if (1) Chris Christie, who had a good night last night, ends up picking up the pieces of Jeb’s campaign and bearing that standard, or (2) the moderate vote goes to Rubio. It’s perhaps possible that Carly Fiorina can put herself in that mix, but Fiorina’s rhetoric about how big government inevitably works to the benefit of big money and big corporations is not going to attract the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
And without Jeb as bogeyman, the narrative for Donald Trump just isn’t as compelling as it was. Trump, and Carson, then have to run as something other than a protest vote, and they have to show they’re actually good on issues and policy. Neither one have that as a strength, which becomes a larger and larger problem as the campaign travels toward an actual caucus or primary. Unless they can fix that problem, of course.
Which means Ted Cruz’ killer performance last night, on top of his growing momentum, is likely to begin attracting the “protest” vote as well as the down-the-line conservative vote. And the moderate/Establishment vote is going to have to settle on someone who can beat Cruz. The guess here is it will be Rubio, who sure didn’t look like an Establishment figure when he was eviscerating the last GOP president’s brother on that stage.
One thing is certainly true, though. This isn’t your usual GOP field, where there’s one “inevitable” candidate with all the money and a gaggle of orphans nipping at his heels. This is a robust field full of strong candidates capable of taking it all the way. We expect this to come down to Cruz and Rubio, but there are eight others with ample political talent to catch on. Most of the candidates in this field would have beaten McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012.
But Jeb wouldn’t. That’s a bit of a surprise, but it’s a good thing. Back to the column one last time…
But what has been rumored for a while is clear now — Jeb Bush is not the frontrunner, and he won’t be a factor in this race. And because that is clear, we now know that an era — and an unsatisfactory one at that — in Republican politics that began with his father’s election in 1988 is now over.
This is no longer the party of Bushes. We’re moving on. We can thank the clowns at CNBC for that, if nothing else.