They’re just telling the truth, he says, in pointing out Trump’s many, many flaws. Well … yes, but the point of last night’s special issue wasn’t that Trump is flawed, an argument that’s been made by various NR authors over the past seven months without jeopardizing their debate role. The point of the issue was that the magazine’s now convinced that Trump is so deeply flawed that nominating him would destroy movement conservatism. It’s as overt an anti-endorsement as an ideological publication can give. How do you moderate a debate fairly when you’ve just screamed from the rooftop that one of the guys onstage undermines everything you stand for? It’d be like asking me to moderate a debate on “The Walking Dead” where one of the participants thinks it’s the greatest show ever. Punches will be thrown. A forum like that is compromised. And NR, to its credit, didn’t put up a fuss about it. They knew going in that declaring their partiality against Trump would cost them.
I don’t begrudge Jeb the chance here to polish his new brand as the most loudly anti-Trump candidate in the field. I don’t fault him either for a knee-jerk defense of NR. In a fight between Buckleyites and Trumpers, a Bush is practically duty-bound to side with the former, especially when they happen to be right on the merits. What grates is what Bush tweeted last night after the issue dropped:
Welcome to the fight, all. Trump is not a conservative. pic.twitter.com/Fri8reAEx1
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 22, 2016
I made this point yesterday but let me make it again. From his ill-advised decision to run in a populist climate to his arrogant attempt to scare the rest of the field out of running with gaudy donor-class fundraising support to his pitiful haplessness in defending himself against Trump to his catastrophic attempt to blow up the only center-righty who can conceivably win the nomination at this point, Jeb Bush has done more to enable Trumpmania than any Republican politician in America. As Phil Kerpen pointed out, his supporters in Congress spent the hours before NR’s issue was published yesterday loudly signaling in the media that if they’re forced to choose between Trump and the conservative Ted Cruz, it’s Trump in a heartbeat. Even now, with Jeb running all-out as America’s number-one Trump-hater — while his Super PAC focuses entirely on Marco Rubio — Team Jeb is hoping that Trump is wildly successful in the first few states. They’ll happily accept him winning Iowa and New Hampshire so long as Jeb finishes second in the latter. That’s the only way Bush’s horrible campaign stands even a small chance of winning the nomination at this point, as the de facto “Anybody But Trump” choice in a two-man race amid panic on the right at Trump as a potential nominee. Any other candidate, with the possible exception of Cruz, would run Jeb off the field head-to-head. And given how well-organized Cruz is, how bad Bush is on the stump, and how much disgust there is among the electorate at establishmentarians, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz ended up running him off the field too.
Incidentally, if Jeb makes it out of New Hampshire, you may start seeing Dubya pop up on the trail for him in South Carolina. How’d you like that as your final choice, tea partiers — Trump or the Bush dynasty?