Jeb Bush's worst week yet: How his Iraq debacle could doom his White House hopes

The proto-candidate's Iraq answers have been a hot mess, with no exit strategy in sight

Published May 13, 2015 3:11PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Larry Downing)
(Reuters/Larry Downing)

Jeb Bush has had 12 years to come up with a decent response to questions about his brother's dumb war in Iraq. He has tens or hundreds of millions of dollars ready to go for a campaign, and dozens of the finest political advisers in the Republican Party working with him to craft proper messaging on any and all topic areas. And unlike, say, Scott Walker, he is well-versed in policy himself, too.

And yet he still cannot offer a coherent response to the most predictable question ever conceived, his answer to which he should be rehearsing in the mirror each morning after he wakes up, and even listening to a looped tape of while he's asleep: Knowing what we know now, would have you authorized the invasion of Iraq? Knowing that the main pretexts for the war were false and that the war would last forever and it would suck mightily -- things that people should have known in 2002-2003, too, but never mind that for the moment -- would you still have done the Iraq?

When Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked Bush this question earlier in the week, Bush had to simply pretend he didn't hear the "knowing what we know now" part. He answered his preferred question, about whether he would have authorized the invasion if he was president or had a vote in the matter in 2003. That interview aired Monday night, and by Tuesday morning his friend Ana Navarro -- who is maybe not his friend anymore! -- blabbed on cable news that Jeb told her he'd "misheard" the question. That gave Jeb the full day to come up with a coherent answer to the question that he should have been expecting for more than a decade. He went on Sean Hannity's radio show later Tuesday afternoon to deliver the following impeccable response: Umm... uhh... DERRR.

"I don't know what that decision would have been. That's a hypothetical," he said. "The simple fact is mistakes were made."

"I don't know." Great, thanks for stopping by. "That's a hypothetical." Yes, all questions in a presidential campaign are hypotheticals, because you're not president yet. "Mistakes were made." *Bashes head in wall* *Soaks computer in kerosene and lights it on fire* *Runs into traffic.* Jeb! "MISTAKES WERE MADE?" Does that collection of mistakes include invading Iraq?

He can't, though. He can't throw his brother under the bus like that. And now he's given credence to all of those Democratic National Committee talking points trying to tie him to his brother's worst policies, the ones that had come across as a bit forced. Either he really believes that authorizing the Iraq war was a good idea even given everything we know, or he's simply unwilling to criticize his brother's singular dumpster fire for the ages. If it's the former, then he isn't exuding a lot of competence in his foreign policy thinking. If the latter, then maybe he's too loyal a brother to bother with a presidential campaign of his own. (I'd bet George W. Bush doesn't even care, is the funny thing. George W., for all his other faults, is a shrewd political mind and all about saying whatever needs to be said to win an election. He's probably screaming at "Ol' Jibber" to denounce him.)

If Jeb can't formulate a decent response to his brother's war then he's got some serious would-be general election problems. But it doesn't make things any easier for him in the primary, either. He's a sitting duck right now, giving the other candidates a free pass to show off how reasonable they supposedly are. "I don't think you can honestly say that if we knew then that there was no (weapons of mass destruction), that the country should have gone to war," Chris Christie said Tuesday. "Of course not," Ted Cruz told Megyn Kelly when she asked him the same question she had asked Jeb Bush. That's right, reader: We now have Ted Cruz credibly pointing at Jeb Bush and saying, Jesus, can you believe this nut over here? He'd still do the Iraq war! Is he insane?

Mistakes were made.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Editor's Picks Fox News George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Jeb Bush Megyn Kelly Ted Cruz