It’s Time to Remove the (!) from Jeb!


Written by Doris O’Brien

Jeb could soon become a burning Bush, flamed-out by poor judgment, inept campaigning, and an unusual display of mean-spiritedness. His self-serving attack on protégé Marco Rubio in the last debate might well be the straw that breaks the back — if not the bank — of the Bush candidacy.

Naturally, the Bush camp is denying all pessimistic prognosticating. And there are plenty of talking heads who still stick to the scenario that Bush could win the GOP nomination. Their reluctance to write Jeb off is based to some extent on the assumption that it is still too “early” in the primary season to determine winners or losers. A second premise is that the massive war chest of the Bush campaign, while dwindling, is still impressive enough to keep him in the race

Keep him in the race? Well, sure.  Elevate him to the status of front-runner?  No way. But to hear longtime Bush family friend and advisor Karl Rove tell it, Jeb is simply suffering a temporary setback from which he can recover by retooling campaign slogans and blanketing the airwaves with expensive ads.

To justify his optimism, Rove has been busily scribbling figures on his trusty little  “white blackboard” that show a more hopeful scenario for Jeb, who had started out as the “front runner” in the GOP  pack, but has  since been  steadily losing ground. As Karl explains it, the sinking numbers for his favorite candidate are simply “typical” of what happens at this stage in campaigns.

To prove his point, Rove is fond of reminding us of the fate of early favorites in previous primaries — guys as Rick Santorum and Herman Cain — who then dropped by the wayside once the more substantial state voting got underway.  One can’t argue with the reality of that.  But the overlooked fact is that Jeb’s situation is not really comparable to the ones Karl Rove so often — and so smugly — cites.

Instead, those examples might more logically underscore the argument that high-flying candidates like Donald Trump and Dr. Benjamin Carson could fade away in the months ahead. What Rove never points out, however, is the unlikelihood of a former front-runner — who has since slipped to a dismal fifth or sixth place in the polls — somehow managing to make a roaring comeback. U.S. Senator John McCain bucked the tide, but he did not face nearly the kind of opposition posed by the 2016 Republican field. He wasn’t competing with “celebrity” candidates like Donald Trump. He didn’t feel so intense a backlash from an anti-establishment electorate.

A bump for Rubio or U.S. Senator Ted Cruz into the double-digits, say, would be legitimately considered a come-from-behind surge. But a political front-runner who drops like a rock to the center of the pack has very little chance historically to win the race.

Maybe there should be a disclosure to the effect that in the first months of the primary, Jeb was a front-runner in name only. And that name was the familiar if controversial one of Bush. Once other candidates presented themselves to the voting public, Jeb’s competitive edge was dulled.  In fact, “dull” is a good word for his entire candidacy.

And yet gurus like Rove presume that somehow in the months ahead Jeb can miraculously part his competition like the Red Sea, allowing him to lead the GOP to the promised land. (If only he had the charisma of a Charleton Heston . . . .)

Still, Jeb maintains that all the doom-and-gloom speculation about his campaign being on the ropes is ridiculous. He insists he has the most money and the best campaign team — though it’s not clear whether that was before or after he fired 40% of them. Nevertheless, in the wake of his last disastrous debate performance, Jeb now promises to be a “different person.” He is taking off the ill-fitting, scary Halloween costume his handlers forced him to wear; he’s tossing aside his pitchfork and his rehearsed, half-hearted verbal attacks on his opponents. He’s about to become the nice guy he really is, because, as he puts it, he just can’t go on anymore being someone he isn’t. Such a sound-byte would seem more suitable for Bruce Jenner.

The latest slogan for the Bush campaign is “Jeb Can Fix It!,” appropriate enough  for someone  whose campaign is clearly “in a fix.” But the catch phrase actually refers to Jeb’s ability to repair the problems of America. He likes to remind us he did just that in Florida – over eight years ago! The governors running in both parties seem to presume that their statehouse skills are the ones most desirable in the Oval office. But this time around, voters aren’t generally buying into that. Walker is out of the running. Kasich, Christie, Chaffee, O’Malley, Jindal, Huckabee, and Pataki are all floundering. The top contenders — Clinton, Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, and Sanders — never governed a state.

Very early in the primary campaign – even before Jeb declared his candidacy — I got a call from one of my liberal relatives who presumed that the contest would come down to Clinton vs. Bush.  I surprised him by opining outright that Bush would not be the GOP nominee. When pressed for a reason, I said simply that I did not know any Republicans who wanted him. I may not have Rove’s ginned-up graphics, but I have eyes and ears.

Political columnist and commentator Kurt Schlicter wrote of Jeb: “We conservatives are sick of being disregarded, disrespected and betrayed.” Well, Jeb may not have expected support from that faction of the GOP, anyway. A bigger problem for him is that there aren’t all that many other Republicans — be they considered moderates, “establishment,” or even so-called RINOs — who seem willing to hitch their wagon to his star.

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