Towards the end of his speech in South Carolina on Thursday, Jeb Bush exclaimed, “I hope you don’t think the end is near.” Unfortunately for Jeb(!), and with that almost unimpressively prophetic defeatist statement humming, the end has come for his nightmarish presidential campaign.
Up until South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki Haley surprised many Bush supporters by endorsing the heir to Bush’s throne, and perpetual brat, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush’s campaign had experienced somewhat of a welcomed flux. Fresh from his solid performance on the debate stage last weekend, morale was on the rise in the Jeb camp. There was frenzied anticipation of a Monday evening gathering with guest of honour, former President, George W. Bush, who did what he was supposed to do, appeal to the South Carolinians with his trademark charm and outward affection of his baby brother. According to Jeb, the “right time” has finally come to utilise the former Commander in Chief.
South Carolina, however, has been a happy hunting ground for the Bush family in the past with primary victories for George H. W. Bush, and ‘Dubya’ in their respective successful bids for the White House.
To experience the clichéd “rise and fall,” there must of course be a rise, and with Jeb Bush’s campaign to date, it is genuinely difficult to identify anything that resembles such (unless you consider that brief 15% spike in the national polls last July a feat). Rather, there has been a steady and consistent decline and it appears that from the outset Jeb has, to borrow a Bush-ism, “misunderestimated” the field of play.
One would be naïve to disregard the former Governor’s political history when it comes to an analysis of how his presidential campaign has failed him thus far. The appendages that are so frequently attributed to Jeb are that he appears weak and awkward when facing the public. These charges can be traced back to his failed 1994 gubernatorial challenge to the established Democratic incumbent, Lawton Chiles.
When asked what he would do to help African Americans, the inexperienced Bush replied nonchalantly, “probably nothing.” Gaffes aside, and there were quite a few; Bush was hammered in the election and was one of only two to miss out on being elected nationwide amid Newt Gingrich’s GOP revolution. There was hope anew for Jeb as the GOP establishment cleared the field for him to stake a 1998 bid – seeing promise in his electability. As he courted the electorate with his popular brand of centrism, akin to his waning 2016 rhetoric, he was carried to the Governor’s office with the assistance of his mighty war chest, which all but stampeded his opponent, Buddy McKay, by 10 points.
Journalists, political commentators, and indeed, prospective Presidential candidates argue that as Governor of Florida, Jeb has never really had to make a hard decision. While this is probably an unfair assertion, after all he eliminated affirmative action, overhauled public education and presided over a presidential election that ended in a recount placing his brother as president, it does offer a psychological window into the manner in which he deals with his detractors and aggressors. Throughout the 2016 campaign, he has appeared weak (despite those rousing claps), and almost reluctant to fight back with gusto. For a man, who by all measures is the more intelligent of the two political brothers, choosing to exercise academic scrutiny towards policy rather than oiling up his robotic joints and interacting meaningfully with the public, Jeb has failed to establish exactly what it is he stands for. In doing so, he has appeared indecisive, wooden, and old-fashioned; a candidate of yesteryear.
Comparisons to George Herbert Walker Bush evoke another interesting perspective on his failing campaign, particularly when it comes to assessing his character. In the current milieu of GOP campaigning, Jeb’s character has been traduced time and time again. The Bush family mantra is work hard, be humble, and always do your best, and it seems that these traditional values no longer appeal to the GOP electorate, perniciously infringing on Jeb’s efforts. Let’s not forget that George H. W. Bush was portrayed as a ‘wimp,’ an indictment that was injurious to his bid for the White House. But, Sr. managed to turn the tables with thanks to the negative campaign spinning of one Lee Atwater. These days however, there is a new king of the diss and Jeb… well, he’s certainly no “tough guy.”
While George H. W. Bush lamented his decision to go negative in retirement, his son’s team needs a new perspective. On this score, town hall goers in South Carolina this past week have been offering Jeb some hard-nosed campaigning advice, one of whom asked if he could be, “excuse me for saying in the vernacular – a son of a bitch?” Bush offered a pre-packaged response by saying that he will be tough, resolute and firm. Following on from his vow to be indomitable, he then tweeted a photograph of a gun, with the single worded caption – “America.” To compound matters, a poll released on Wednesday showed Jeb drawing just 1 percent of likely Nevada caucus-goers – bad, meet worse.
Despite the introduction of Dubya to his weary bid, there is an air of finality to Jeb’s presidential campaign – evidenced by his “Super PAC”, Right to Rise cancelling up to one third of its advertisement reservations in the run up to Super Tuesday. Let’s address the elephant in the room, not the triumphant GOP beasts, straddled by Trump, Cruz, et al. but rather the pang of reality, that Jeb Bush will more than likely drop out of the Presidential race following this weekend’s events. As his mother, Babs, perhaps best surmised, he’s “almost too polite” for this race and moms do know best. After all, she was the one who said in 2013 he shouldn’t run(!)
Matthew O’Brien & Andrew Carolan