If it’s true that Jeb Bush ran for president only because he felt it was his job to be the reasonable candidate, then he’s clearly switched tactics.
His new assignment: drag Donald Trump down with him.
Those in the more conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party have long speculated that Jeb, the former two-term Florida governor, entered the race only to keep one of their own (i.e., Ted Cruz or Rand Paul) from winning.
With more than $130 million raised between his own campaign and his Right to Rise super PAC, Bush was supposed to have simply outspent his opposition.
But Trump’s populist campaign soon ended those hopes, and it’s been obvious that Bush doesn’t really want the job — he’s simply doing his duty.
When Trump came out of nowhere with what appeared to be an insane campaign strategy, Bush initially jumped on the attack. It did him no good, and probably boosted Trump even higher.
In the first couple of debates, Bush lashed out at Trump, then his main rival. By the fourth debate, Bush was sliding further down the polls and was in danger of being overtaken by his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio.
So Bush took his focus off Trump and fired instead at Rubio, for whom he had been a political mentor.
Bush tried hitting Rubio on his bad voting record in the Senate while running for president. But Rubio shot back that Arizona Sen. John McCain missed quite a few votes when running for president in 2008 — and that Bush had actually launched his own White House effort promising to run a McCain-like campaign.
“Jeb, I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record,” Rubio said. “The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
Bush’s slide in the polls continued after that, and he’s now in the bottom of the pack. No one believes he’s going to win, including himself. It’s obvious in his body language.
Molly Ivins famously dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub.” Jeb Bush could just as easily be dubbed “Shrug.” He literally lifts his shoulders and tilts his head as tries to share his vision of where the nation needs to go.
But even as Bush knows his presidential aspirations are a lost cause, he has refused to quit. Whether it’s from a smoke-filled GOP backroom or just his own sense of duty, he feels he must keep Trump from becoming his party’s nominee.
Just look at the most recent debate: It wasn’t Rubio he was focused on, or anyone else in single digits in the polls. Sure enough, it was Trump once again.
Bush obviously won’t rise again from attacking Trump, but he does seem to feel he can hurt Trump by tricking him into exposing his own weaknesses:
Consider this back-and-forth from the last CNN debate:
Bush: “He gets his foreign policy experience from the shows.”
Trump (shaking his head): “Aw, come on.”
Bush: “That’s not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through, that can lead our country.”
Trump: “We need toughness. I think that Jeb is a very nice person … but we need tough people. We need toughness.”
Bush jumped in and talked over Trump.
Trump: “Am I talking or are you talking, Jeb?”
Bush: “I’m talking right now.”
Trump: “I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well. We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected as a nation anymore, we don’t have that level of respect that we need, and if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker, and just disintegrate. … We need strength. We don’t have it.”
Bush: “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen. And I do have the strength. Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people.”
Trump: “With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again, that I can tell you. We will never be great again.”
It sounded like Trump won the argument, but it was Bush who was smiling contentedly. Mission accomplished.
Bush lured Trump into showing himself exactly as the man he was describing, and everyone could see it. Of course, Bush showed himself to be the man that Trump was describing, but that’s beside the point.
To a lesser degree, conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt is performing the same function. His question at the debate about the “nuclear triad” exposed Trump’s ignorance on the subject.
I don’t think Hewitt, a “nomenclature dyad” if there ever was one, is part of conspiracy to bring down Trump, but I’ll bet his question was purposely posed to allow the billionaire businessman to stand or fall.
But Bush is now the designated man to dump on Trump and leave Rubio alone. He is there to help Trump make himself look so bad that another establishment-approved candidate can win. Rubio, once seen as a Tea Party figure himself, appears to be that man.
Will Bush succeed? So far, he appears to be doing just as good a job with the new assignment as he did with the old one.