Like everyone else, Bush soon found Trump impossible to ignore. When Trump reposted a nasty tweet a couple of weeks after his contentious announcement speech— “Bush has to like Mexican illegals because of his wife”—the former Florida governor was forced to respond. “You can love your Mexican-American wife,” he told one interviewer before telling another that Trump was “preying on people’s fears.”
The half-dozen conservative senators and governors who had planned to run before Bush brought out his shock-and-awe fundraising campaign, had to laugh: They viewed Bush himself as an intruder, a political semi-retiree who sat on the sidelines for eight years while they fought Barack Obama. Now it was Bush’s turn to rage at an outsider.
“Seriously, what’s this guy’s problem?” he asked one party donor he ran into recently, according to accounts provided by several sources close to Bush—and he went on to describe the publicity-seeking real estate developer now surging in public polls far ahead of Bush and all the 15 others in the Republican field as “a buffoon,” “clown” and “asshole.”
I wonder what would have happened had Jeb been more publicly indignant after Trump retweeted that thing about his wife. One of the early raps on Bush is that he’s Dukakis-esque in his passivity when being attacked. Knowing that he’s willing to throw a roundhouse at Trump in private conversation but not in front of a mic, where Trump would find out about it, only makes it worse — especially when you consider why it is that Trumpmania has erupted on the right. Check this out, from Echelon Insights:
Trump leads the field with 32 percent, nearly a full 20 points better than Jeb Bush’s 13, precisely because he’s the sort of guy who’ll call you an A-hole to your face rather than behind your back. His own staff is happily chirping to the media that he hasn’t rehearsed for tonight’s debate in order to further polish his image as someone who speaks his mind regardless of political niceties. In fact, the whole Trump/Bush dynamic is fascinating insofar as each man is basically a caricature of what each wing of the party hates about the other. Trump comes off as an angry blowhard for whom policy is almost entirely beside the point of politics; Bush comes off as an entitled milquetoast who’d rather lose like an “adult” than stoop to what’s required to win. Neither one is particularly conservative: Trump sees politics as transactional whereas Bush seems to be at his most passionate when he’s talking about amnesty. Makes me wonder if Trumpmania would have happened, at least to the degree that it has, if Bush had decided against running. It’s a reaction against the wider GOP establishment, sure, but I think it’s also partly a specific reaction to the prospect of another Bush presidency. The donor class is going to stick us with another big-bank “safe” centrist nominee whom no one’s excited about — one whose dad and brother were already president to boot? This is the best the Republican establishment can do? Screw them. Let’s send ’em a message by backing the guy who rambles about Mexican rapists instead.
And the punchline, of course, is that the “safe” choice in this case isn’t very safe. He’s got a ton of Bush baggage, he’s on video giving Hillary Clinton an award for public service, and he keeps stepping on rakes rhetorically, most recently with his dopey gaffe about funding for women’s health. Says Mark Steyn, what’s the point of passing on Trump for the smooth professional politician if the latter isn’t smooth?
[Bush is] a total stinkeroo this time round. He was wooden and ill-prepared at that New Hampshire forum the other night, and he keeps walking into stupid unnecessary errors. Here he is relaunching singlehandedly the Republicans’ war on women:
“I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Mr. Bush said at a Southern Baptist Convention event in Nashville.
For perspective, the federal government spends about $1 trillion a year on health care.
Amid a storm of Democratic mockery, Mr. Bush backtracked within a few hours, saying he had misspoken.
But don’t forget, Trump’s the clown and all his celebrity-buffoon candidacy will do is drive all sensible, prudent persons to rally round Jeb as the sane, moderate, don’t-frighten-the-horses Mister Electable candidate.
Jeb’s virtue isn’t that he’s the “safe” choice in the race — he isn’t — it’s that he’s the most well-armed financially. So was Romney in 2012 and you saw how that turned out. If you want to play it truly safe next year, the obvious choice is Marco Rubio, who’s fluent in policy, has loads of retail skill, and makes for a nice demographic contrast with Hillary. If you want someone bolder and more conservative, the obvious choice isn’t Trump but Ted Cruz. Toss Scott Walker into the mix as someone with executive experience and an exceptional achievement in Wisconsin in his collective bargaining reforms and you’ve got a potential final three that’s much easier to swallow than a Trump/Bush death match. Wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the three we’re left with in the end.