Anyone have any thoughts? I watched that exchange between him and Rubio about missing votes and still can’t figure out what he thought it would achieve. Was Rubio supposed to look sheepish and say, “You’re right, I should resign”? Did Jeb really think Republican voters, who like Rubio to the tune of a 65/20 favorable rating in various polls, were suddenly going to turn on him for too many absences from a chamber that famously never passes important legislation anymore anyway? What was the strategy here?
Jonathan Last can’t figure it out either.
As I said, Bush’s attack was almost certainly a pre-meditated set piece. Yet he didn’t have the political sense to see that Rubio was in a very good frame coming off of an answer where he beat the snot out of the moderators. Bush had no ability to read the scene and understand that it would have been better in that moment not to take the shot. He had a plan, so he robotically stuck to it…
On top of all of that, Bush didn’t understand that Rubio’s biggest concern at this point is being slotted as a tool of the establishment. Getting attacked by the establishment guy is the best luck Rubio could wish for. The only thing Bush accomplished is helping Rubio cross over, which will lift him in the polls, which will increase the donor pressure on Bush to drop out.
Precisely. Rubio had just answered a question from the hated CNBC panel about his missing votes by noting how many other politicians, Barack Obama included, skipped out on the Senate to campaign for president. The crowd cheered him. Bush could have and should have called an audible at that point by passing on the attack lest he be seen as siding with the moderators against Rubio on a ticky-tack criticism. But it gets worse: Every Republican insider in the country, it seems, knew that this line of attack was coming. Two separate Twitter pals messaged me last night before the debate to say that they’d heard Jeb was preparing it. If they knew it was happening, Team Marco surely knew. (Not that Team Bush made any effort to hide it. Remember, they launched a Twitter feed dedicated to tracking Rubio’s missed votes just hours before the debate yesterday.) It’s hard enough to get the better of Marco Rubio at a debate when he doesn’t know what’s coming; it’s probably impossible to do it when he does. And it’s certainly impossible for Jeb Bush to do it given how effusive he’s been in praising Rubio over the years. Even if this attack had worked somehow, the first question to him at the next debate in two weeks would have involved revisiting his praise of Rubio over the years, including endorsing him for VP in 2012, and then forcing him to explain how a few missed Senate votes somehow upends all of that.
There is an attack on Rubio that Bush could have tried that might have stung but he’s probably the most poorly positioned guy in the field to launch it. The attack is this: Because Rubio is so inexperienced, he got rolled by Democrats on the Gang of Eight bill. He trusted Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer to meet Republicans halfway on a comprehensive bill, then got stuck with a bad deal which he felt he couldn’t in good conscience walk away from until after he had voted for it. Inexperience is Rubio’s main liability vis-a-vis the two-term governor Bush and his immigration record is his main liability among conservatives and many center-righties. Smacking Rubio for being too soft on amnesty would be no easy trick for Jeb Bush, the most famous border dove in the Republican primary, but he really had no choice at this point. He could have said something like, “Yes, I support immigration reform — as does every candidate onstage tonight — but I don’t support a deal that would legalize illegal immigrants in return for mere promises of better border security. Ten years ago, with a better class of Democrats, promises might have been good enough. Under Barack Obama, they aren’t. Senator Rubio didn’t see that. Imagine what else he might not see if he’s elected president.” Would that argument win any votes for Jeb? Probably not, but it might cost Rubio a few and that was Bush’s ostensible mission last night — knocking Rubio down in the polls to show his donors that the other center-right guy from Florida is still a worse bet than Bush himself is.
But he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pull it off. Is that because Bush is totally allergic to posing as an immigration hawk, even for this limited purpose? (If so, why did he rule out a path to citizenship for illegals in his book on the subject, published two years ago?) Or is it because he just can’t bring himself to throw a truly hard punch, especially against a guy like Rubio whom he admires? David Frum thinks it’s the latter:
If somebody writes an attack line for him, he can deliver it—unenthusiastically, emphasis in the wrong places, undramatically—but still: It’s delivered. But that’s it. When it fails, as it always does, he cannot, on his own two feet, find an effective way forward or a dignified way back…
He comes with one punch, whiffs it, and then the energy seeps out of him for the rest of the evening. Watching Bush soldier through the hour and 40 minutes after his sad bungle with Rubio was like watching an army marching on a slow dejected retreat. He was listless, depressed, and perfunctory. His post-debate interview was downright defeatist…
But even more worryingly: Notice how often Jeb Bush—when he meets adversity—reverts to talking about himself and his feelings. Many politicians suffer moments of depression, but the good ones can take a punch and keep smiling until the opportunity arrives to hit back. All politicians are self-involved, but most at least can remember to put the public first when the microphones are switched on. Not Jeb Bush. As Philip Marlowe says to Terry Lennox in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye: “You talk too damn much, and it’s too damn much about you.”
Yeah, and don’t underestimate that as a partial explanation for why seemingly everyone, even people who dislike Rubio, sounds so gleeful over Jeb’s tailspin. It’s not just that his money and connections haven’t, for once, been able to turn the electorate in the direction that the donor class wants. It’s not just the thrill of populist revolt against the Republican royal family. It’s the sense that he’s bad at this and self-pitying about it, which tempts people to kick him while he’s down. It’s one thing to lose, it’s another thing to lose despite being the early favorite, but it’s something else altogether to lose despite being the early favorite and then act pathetic about it. I genuinely feel bad for him now, even though I’d never back him. He seems like a good guy stuck in a position he never anticipated running a campaign he was probably deeply ambivalent about from the start. I hope Bushworld doesn’t force him to slog on, his Super PAC dumping tens of millions of dollars in attack ads against Rubio. All that’ll do is alienate members of the donor class who are otherwise well disposed towards the Bushes. And if that costs Rubio the nomination or the general election, that grudge might linger when George P. Bush is finally ready to run for national office.
I don’t think Jeb’s going to try to take Rubio out, though. If he takes anyone out, it’ll be as Darth Bush tossing Emperor Trump down the well to protect Marco Skywalker. We’ll see.