Lefty Josh Marshall wrote this morning that you know the debate over the Iraq war is over when hawkish GOP candidates like Rubio and Cruz are giving thumbs down to invading in an “if we knew then” scenario. If there was any doubt that that’s true, having Dubya’s kid brother add his own reluctant thumbs down, albeit after five days of intense pressure, removes the last shred.

“So here’s the deal,” Bush told an audience in Arizona, “if we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions, knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq. That’s not to say that the world is safer because Saddam Hussein is gone. It is significantly safer.“…

“That’s not to say that there was a courageous effort to bring about a surge that created stability in Iraq. All of that is true. And that is not to say that the men and women that have served in uniform and many others that went to Iraq to serve, they did so, they did so honorably. But, we’ve answered the question now, so now going forward, what’s the role of America going forward. Are we going to pull back now and be defeatists and pessimistic or are we going to engage in a way that creates a more peaceful and secure world. That is what 2016’s about.

“Not about 2000, not about 1992, not about 1980, but about the future. And I hope that you want leaders that are going to be forthright in their views that will express those views with compassion and conviction and do so so that there’s a clear understanding for America’s role in the world.”

That’s as close as we’ll ever get, I imagine, to Bush 43 calling Iraq a mistake. Dan Foster’s theory seems not implausible:

If that’s true, it’ll remain a mystery why that call wasn’t placed months before Jeb launched his proto-candidacy, knowing that his take on Iraq could be make-or-break for his campaign. Surely the Bushes realized that, in the interest of returning to power, they’d have to give Jeb tons of slack in running away from the war. The fact that it took him nearly a week to get past this suggests he was actually on a short leash, which means either the family’s in denial about the state of public opinion or the consider it more important to protect Dubya’s legacy than to protect Jeb’s presidential chances. Not good for Bush 45 either way.

I doubt it was George W. alone who finally twisted Jeb’s arm, though. These quotes from Politico are revealing:

“It’s true we want to raise $100 million by the end of the month,” one Bush donor told Politico Magazine, refusing to speak on record for fear of appearing disloyal. “But if he doesn’t give a clear answer about something so simple and figure out how to deal with the issue of his brother, we’re going to have to spend every penny of that cleaning up his mess.”…

“The difference between [Romney’s] 47 percent remarks and what Jeb did is Jeb knew he was being recorded. He knew—or should have known—that this specific question was being asked, and he botched it,” said [another] Republican supporter. “It’s not dissimilar to his response in 1994 when he was asked what he would do for black people and he said ‘probably nothing.’ It was a sign that he can be too blunt, too testy and too arrogant.”

That’s dangerous stuff for a candidate as fragile as Jeb, who should be the prohibitive favorite given his money and name recognition but whose support could crack fairly easily among the donor class given their other options on the center-right. Sticking with Romney in 2012 was easy for them; who were they going to dump him for, Newt Gingrich? Sticking with Bush when you’ve got Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie (and Mitt Romney?) to choose from is harder, especially when he can’t cough out a smooth answer to the one question everyone expects him to handle smoothly. It’s worth noting that his Iraq response this morning, admitting that he wouldn’t have invaded but that the world is safer without Saddam, closely tracks what Rubio’s said over the past month and a half. Both men seem to have settled on the hawkish compromise position that the war shouldn’t have happened given the bad WMD intel but it’s actually good for global security that it did — a lucky mistake, essentially. Maybe Jeb’s decided that he’d better follow Rubio’s lead on foreign policy from now on so that his donor base doesn’t end up with an extra reason to prefer the younger, more charismatic, more polished pol from Florida. Ace has been saying for weeks that Bush is overrated and could flame out Giuliani-style despite the pile of money he’s raised. I doubted that — until this week. I wonder how many Bush donors feel the same way.

Exit question via Matt Lewis, remembering Jeb’s answer yesterday on this topic: