The audience applause at this exchange roused Jeb Bush from his stupor, but his response was disappointing. Bush apparently didn’t’ know that he’d been presented with one of those rare moments in life where the accurate thing to say, the gracious thing to say, and the politic thing to say are one and the same.
Bush could have amplified on Rubio’s historic examples. He could have pointed out that even before John McCain ran for president, the Arizona senator had a spotty attendance record and yet still managed to remain an effective Republican voice and national leader. Jeb could have mentioned that while campaigning in Kentucky in 2004, Kerry missed a key Senate vote on extending unemployment insurance—an issue Kerry claimed to care about—and that it failed by one vote. Bush could have reminded the audience that Lyndon Johnson raised the same issue with John F. Kennedy in 1960 and that Kennedy waved it away and voters yawned.
Finally, Jeb could have said that Rubio—who is not a millionaire, as Bush is—is not running for reelection, and will be giving up his seat in pursuit of the presidency. He didn’t say any of those things.