The best description I’ve read of Jeb’s mien on the trail came from Rich Lowry, who said “he looks and sounds like a sensitive dad from a contemporary sitcom.” Right? I imagine him walking offstage after a speech and crossing paths with a 10-year-old boy who’s just gotten another wedgie from the school bully and doesn’t believe in himself anymore. Time for the Danny Tanner of the GOP to set things right with a pep talk about how weak people use violence because they’re not good with words. Trump, running across the same kid, would give him a hundred bucks to cheer him up and promise to call a few guys he knows who’ll make sure that’s the last wedgie that bully ever gives.

Come to think of it, it was another NRO writer, Kevin Williamson, who had one of the best descriptions I’ve read of Trumpmania, writing of his fans that “you will hear purportedly heterosexual men working up freestyle paeans to Trump’s alleged virility — those ‘pussies in Washington’ aren’t ready for ‘a real man like Trump,’ as one put it — and cataloguing his praises in exuberant gonadal terms, with special attention paid to calculating the heaviness of the Trumpian scrotum relative to the equipment being packed by, e.g., Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.” Trump is the alpha, in other words, and Jeb’s the beta, and while a lot goes into that — wealth, lifestyle, which part of the party each purports to represent — the biggest chunk of it comes from Trump jabbing day after day at Jeb with no response until recently. Peter Beinart, recycling a term that haunted Jeb’s dad, calls it the wimp factor at work:

Trump must expect Jeb to find his dehumanization of illegal immigrants repulsive. But like any good bully, he can smell fear. He knows that Jeb, like most of the other Republican presidential candidates, fears the animal spirits he has awoken inside the GOP base. And so he’s virtually dared Jeb to double down on what he really believes. Asked this week about Jeb’s trip to a town near the Mexican border, Trump quipped that “he’ll now find out that it is not an act of love … I think he’ll probably be able to figure that out, maybe.”

It was a test: not of Jeb’s views on immigration, but of his character. A test of whether, when challenged on a subject close to his heart, the former Florida governor can show “energy.” Whether he can show he really is a “warrior.”…

Late last year, Jeb said a Republican presidential candidate should be willing to “lose the primary” in order to avoid “violating your principles.” Donald Trump is now testing that pledge. He’s assaulting the people Jeb loves to see if Jeb has the “energy” to fight for them, consequences be damned. And Jeb is replying by calling Trump’s demagoguery “unrealistic.”

Until recently Jeb took most of Trump’s punches without responding because it was the consensus of the consultant class idea that you gain nothing by playing Trump’s game. You won’t out-insult him and by engaging him you acknowledge that his candidacy is worth taking seriously. Now that Bush has spent weeks looking up at him in the polls, the question of whether to take him seriously has been answered. So now Jeb’s going to punch back. Except … even his counterpunches seem a bit wimpy:

Jeb Bush fired back at Donald Trump at a Hamptons fund-raiser, calling the Republican front-runner “a jerk.”

At the Southampton event Bush — who has been blasted by Trump as “low energy” — added that watching his political rival is like “watching reality TV,” according to a witness.

He’ll call him a “jerk,” but only in private. At a fundraiser. In the Hamptons.

The whole alpha/beta dynamic makes me wonder how it’ll play if/when Trump decides to go after his new competition in Iowa, Ben Carson. Trump can’t do his “I’m smarter than the rest of these schmucks” shtick with a brain surgeon. He can’t sneer at him for being a too-slick professional politician. He could accuse him of being “low energy,” I guess, which is his preferred code for calling Bush a wimp, but Carson’s soft-spokenness is one of the things that voters find appealing about him. It suggests humility and authenticity, a mirror image of how Trump’s bombast and press-conference ramblings suggest authenticity in contrast to the overly scripted governors and senators in the race. Getting nasty with a man of faith in Iowa could be especially dangerous too with some social cons scratching their heads about the depth of Trump’s own religious convictions. I think Trump will have no choice but to attack Carson as essentially being too darned nice for the job. What we need as president is a man who’ll be a ruthless bastard for American interests once in charge. Carson’s too gentle. So is the sitcom dad from Florida.