Via the Weekly Standard, this is the first high-five moment for Jeb since … ever, right?
There’s a debate raging at NRO as I write this between Mona Charen and Charles Cooke, who think Jeb’s done and that it’s time to redirect the Bush Super PAC Death Star towards worthier targets like Trump and Hillary, and Ramesh Ponnuru, who doesn’t see why we should short-circuit the process. I’m on Team Ponnuru, with reservations. Even in the latest polls showing a Rubio surge in New Hampshire, Bush is at 10 percent and within single digits of second place. New Hampshire polling is famously unreliable to boot. Why should Jeb pull the plug when there’s a chance that he’s competitive with Rubio right now and stands a chance of finishing ahead of him on Tuesday night? He’s spent the last four months there and many millions of dollars campaigning doggedly. He deserves to find out what sort of return he got on his investment. Plus, per Jeb’s point about whining, some of Rubio’s most stalwart supporters do seem at times to behave as though shots at Marco are necessarily “unfair.” The vibe I get is that he’s somehow more innocent and guileless than the other candidates and therefore less deserving of the harsh attacks that a creature like Cruz is forced to endure as a matter of course. I remember Obama supporters behaving the same way in 2008. I took to calling him “Bambi” on the site because there was a sense among O fans that every Clinton attack was dirty pool, no matter how pedestrian it was. Obama, being young, charming, and relatively unspoiled by years in D.C., embodied their own pure aspirations of what America should be, and therefore attacking him was nasty by definition. Rubio seems to do something similar to his hardcore fans, although not to the same extent. It’s a testament to his and Obama’s retail skills that they’re able to generate that protective impulse. You don’t pull a gun on Bambi, and yet Jeb and Mike Murphy have been firing relentlessly at him for months. The bastards.
About those reservations, though. The main reason Right to Rise catches so much flak for attacking Rubio, I think, isn’t the Bambi factor or even because they’ve spent so much money on the effort. It’s because of the perception, fair or not, that Jeb Bush’s candidacy was less about electing Jeb and more about electing “the establishment’s guy.” Jeb had $100 million dropped on him not because he was fantastically impressive but because the Bush family has many friends and, more importantly, the donor class needed someone formidable on the center-right who could oufox the Cruzes and Pauls and Walkers of the world. Jeb himself has reinforced that perception, whether intentionally or not, by making “stop Trump” one of his core messages. That befits his role as a member of the GOP’s governing class: The goal here isn’t merely (or even ultimately) to elect Jeb Bush, it’s to make sure the GOP ends up with a “responsible” nominee, which means someone besides Trump. Jeb’s candidacy is, in other words, bigger than himself. That being so, it’s strange watching him turn the guns on Rubio, a guy whom even Jeb’s own donors would say easily meets the “responsible” test, instead of blowing up the alleged menace Trump even though Trump is the biggest beneficiary of the muddle among the “establishment” candidates that Jeb has helped create. That’s the killer — when offered a chance to hit someone in his own lane who’s outperforming him or the sort of loose-cannon populist gargoyle whom Jeb’s candidacy was ostensibly designed to stop, Bush tries to wreck the former even at the expense of helping the latter. And the punchline is that the guy in his own lane who’s ahead of him is someone he’s known and worked with for years, and who, until recently, he had nothing but the warmest praise for, even once recommending him for VP. That strategy, that it’s worth emptying the chamber at Rubio even though it increases the risk of a party-wrecking Trump nomination, calls the premise of Bush’s candidacy into question and makes the stench of spite here unmistakable. Does he really think it’s of utmost importance for the GOP to have a “responsible” nominee? Or does he think it’s me or bust, whatever that means for a Trump takeover of the GOP? This is why I still can’t get over Jeb tweeting, after National Review’s “Against Trump” issue came out, “Welcome to the fight.” If not for Jeb Bush, the fight against Trump might not have been necessary in the first place.