There were three stages of Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.
There was the Jeb! Phase where his surrogates masterfully puffed up his potential candidacy on the Sunday morning news shows the weekend after Romney lost the election, his projection of a $100,000,000 political fund, and the impressive rollout of his Right to Rise PAC. At the “exclamation stage,” Jeb was looking like an inevitable nominee and the man to beat.
However that was followed by the Jeb? Phase, where drunk off of initial polling and healthy fundraising, Bush began to make statements that questioned his authenticity as a conservative. His “lose the primary to win the general” remark made it sound like Republican voters were an obstacle to overcome rather than people to win over. And then there were his “fertile immigrants” and let Detroit be repopulated by foreigners comments. The “question mark stage” of his candidacy had people asking not just which party’s nomination wanted but what country’s presidency he was seeking.
And then there was the jeb. Phase. After spending a year exploring new ways to infuriate Republican voters, Jeb tried to make nice. The “act of love” euphemism for illegal border crossings was replaced with uncomfortable talk of drones patrolling the Rio Grande and perhaps an improved physical structure in some areas.
The first presidential debate in Cleveland marked the beginning of the end, between then and South Carolina the only thing going on was unprecedented profiteering by Jeb’s political consultants. The “period stage” charted his drift from the center of the debate stage to the orchestra pit.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. The CPAC straw polls showed that there was negligible conservative support for a Jeb Bush presidential run and the last six months of polling data indicated there was little enthusiasm in the broader GOP electorate to add a third notch to the Bush Presidential Dynasty.
The results from Iowa and New Hampshire merely made it official.
Going into South Carolina, the nine-figure Jeb campaign/super PAC tandem had devolved into a modern day incarnation of John Connally’s spectacularly expensive and unsuccessful 1980 presidential run.
It would be unfair to say that First Lady Barbara Bush doomed her son’s candidacy back in 2013 when she casually remarked that “we’d had enough Bushes”.
Though that very quote would be thrown at him in the first GOP presidential debate, the popular First Lady was only saying what everyone believed: that a country of over 320,000,000 people could surely produce an able national executive outside of the Kennebunkport compound.
And it wasn’t Marco Rubio’s fault either, though the protégé did get the better of him at debates.
The very concept of a yet another Bush winning a presidential nomination in five of the past eight election cycles was simultaneously absurd and obnoxious. If per chance Jeb had won the nomination and the White House, the last three Republican presidents would have all been members of the Bush family.
And the truth of the matter is the fractured GOP might not have survived a Jeb nomination and defeat, as the Republican Party could have gone the way of the late Canadian Progressive Conservatives.
To have had any chance of winning the presidency, Jeb’s brother would have had to left office with Eisenhower or Reagan level popularity. Instead W vacated the White House about as beloved as Truman or Nixon.
While his older brother’s image has undergone a degree of public rehabilitation in recent years, not that much progress has been made on that front. Exit polling from 2012 showed that many American voters held George W. Bush against Mitt Romney.
Though I was not a supporter of his candidacy I will give Jeb credit in two areas: his communication skills as a candidate picked up significantly, as he was constantly improving his performances at the debates, and his town hall meetings were authentic, perhaps to his chagrin.
While covering one at an elementary school in Londonderry, New Hampshire Jeb kept taking questions from plants – though not his own but from social justice warriors and supporters of other candidates. Yet Jeb deftly handled the belligerent inquiries. In this teleprompter age of politics, it is reassuring that we have potential leaders of the free world who can think on their feet.
Jeb is a smoother, more concise public speaker than his father and brother though he lacked George H.W.’s gravitas and George W.’s people skills. Jeb was often too easily perturbed and he let it show.
If Jeb had a chance of winning the GOP nomination, it was in 2012 when he could have met the sniping over his brother’s legacy head on – to do the work that George W. Bush has been reluctant to do. But after the McCain and Romney defeats, Republican voters, even ones who generally defer to the party establishment, were ready for drastic changes and not inclined to double down on something that has clearly not worked.
Jeb Bush won’t be president however he might yet enjoy one privilege his father and mother had: seeing his son sworn in as president. Though the sun has set on Jeb’s electoral career, George Prescott Bush’s political star is ascending in Texas where he holds a statewide office.
George P. could in the not-so-distant future eye a run for governor or US Senator. Hopefully by the time his name is seriously considered for a White House run the GOP will have succeeded in electing a president with a surname other than Bush.
Finally, in departing the race Bush has achieved, albeit belatedly, two very important things: cutting the anti-Trump field of candidates and denying his arch nemesis his foil of choice.
Jeb was Trump’s piñata, mocking him at debates and even engaging in unflattering impersonations of him at rallies – as this rather off-beat YouTube parody so aptly demonstrated…
Jeb’s presence gave Trump an electoral identity as the outsider against the epitome of the establishment. The billionaire’s game of being the anti-Bush has now run its course.
As Trump doesn’t have Jeb to kick around anymore, he’s going to have to tangle with two US Senators who won their offices by beating the party establishment. And though he’s the new choice of the party big wigs, it’ll be a tall task for Trump to make the affable John Kasich into a nefarious political villain.
Though he did not fare well as a candidate, Jeb’s departure from the race is a major turning point for the GOP nomination fight.