Watch the three (short) clips below. Having Christie and Cruz, two guys at opposite poles of the party, give the same answer to this question is all the proof you need that it’s the “correct” answer politically, even in a primary filled with hawkish voters. That goes double for Jeb Bush since the Iraq albatross around his neck is twice as heavy as it is for everyone else; there’s a reason why he’s been telling audiences for months that “I’m my own man.” And yet, having seen this question twice now from two friendly-ish interviewers in Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, knowing that it’s the one topic more than any other on which he needs a very good answer, Bush whiffed. Both times. How’d that happen?
I could almost understand it if he was taking a defiant pro-war approach a la Quin Hillyer in today’s NRO, betting that Republican voters have invested so much political capital in defending the invasion over the past 12 years that they’d reward a candidate who took their side unapologetically. That would be an odd approach for a guy who’s resolved to preserve his general-election appeal to centrists even if it means angering righties in the primaries, but it’s not crazy to think you can’t go wrong trying to out-hawk the rest of the field in a GOP contest. Hannity gave him a chance to make that case, though, and Bush … passed. He said he doesn’t know if he’d order the invasion knowing then what we know now, the one answer guaranteed to irritate everyone. Now super-hawks like Rubio can slam him for being weaselly and indecisive and more dovish opponents like Paul can slam him for doubling down on an intervention that cost the party the presidency and both houses of Congress. Before this week, I would have guessed that Team Jeb had prepared a script for him on Iraq and insisted that he memorize it within the first hour after announcing his presidential exploratory committee last winter. As it is, he’s claiming that he hasn’t thought enough about this subject to give Hannity a definitive answer. Amazing.
What explains this? Did Jeb Bush really decide to run for president, fully aware what his main obstacle was, only on the condition that he not be asked to distinguish himself from Dubya too much on Dubya’s biggest liability?