There will be blood: Prepare for nasty Jeb Bush -- but don't expect any fingerprints

The press is desperate to see Jeb Bush start viciously trashing his opponents. Oh, it's coming

By Jim Newell
Published June 3, 2015 4:45PM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
(Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

When is Jeb Bush going to stop being so boring and get mean? This is the question on the minds of the political press corps. Sure, it's nice that he's open to any and all questions from reporters and voters alike, but does he have to answer them with his wishy-washy technocratic details? When's he going to start calling his opponents terrible names so reporters can sex up their Jeb stories a bit?

Everyone wants to see some blood. The hope, now that Bush is tumbling from presumed frontrunner status, is that he'll be forced to mix it up a little instead of responding to questions with, say, a critique of the wording in subclause 2(b)(ii) of some education bill from 1995. The further you tumble from contention, the more you have to resort to weird humiliating stunts to get attention in this field of dozens of candidates.

And there's no better place to start getting nasty than at Walt Disney World. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a malevolent ghoul straight out of the German folk stories on which most classic Disney movies are based, held an economic summit yesterday at the sweltering Orlando money-suck where dreams come true. Bush, finally on some friendly turf, used the occasion "to more forcefully attack opponents" than he's previously been willing to do, according to the Washington Post. "Bush has mostly avoided sparring with Republican contenders," the Post writes, "saying that he’s not yet an official candidate and is eager to be a 'joyful' alternative for voters upset by partisan warfare. But that strategy doesn’t appear to be working."

Alright, so give us the skinny: what did he say? Did he call Scott Walker a dingdong? Did he throw a trash can at Ted Cruz? Did he literally murder Mike Huckabee?

Ehh, not really. He made the bold decision -- you'll never believe this -- to criticize Rand Paul on national security. He said that Paul was "wrong about the Patriot Act." Bam! "He also delivered his most personal swipe yet at Rubio," the Post writes, "in response to the senator’s suggestions earlier in the day that Republicans should elect younger leaders." Okay, let's see this uppercut: “It’s kind of hard to imagine that my good friend Marco would be critical of his good friend Jeb,” Bush said.

Oh. That's it?

Yeah, so... I'm not quite sure that we saw the sharper, meaner, more aggressive and debased Jeb Bush that we were all promised here. Seems more like he simply said he disagreed with Rand Paul and made a light joke about the media's obsession with getting him and Marco Rubio to prematurely destroy each other.

Bush's refusal to engage in direct bloodsport against his opponents is no fun, sure, but if everyone can just wait a few months, it will happen. Jeb Bush may seem like a total boob now, but it's never a good idea to get between a Bush and an election. As Jeb said yesterday, "there are motivations for every candidate. Mine would be to win.”

The Bushes are perfectly willing to set aside their WASPy sense of manners and do what it takes to win elections. George H.W. Bush, an old-school Connecticut Yankee, was willing to wear clownish cowboy clothes for a full two years if that's what it took to beat Michael Dukakis. More importantly: he was willing to go hard after the Willie Horton issue -- while leaving outside groups to run the infamously nasty ad, keeping his hands clean. George W. Bush, too, was able to win 2000 South Carolina primary when certain mysterious outside forces launched a guerrilla smear campaign against John McCain.

Now, thanks to our Supreme Court, campaign finance regulations are structured to allow candidacies to get as nasty as they so desire while offering the candidates themselves full deniability. Jeb Bush's Right to Rise super PAC is expected to have at least $100 million dollars with which to work in trashing anyone who dare nip at Bush's heels. Much like Mitt Romney in 2012, Bush can simply blush and say "Who, me?" when asked about some horrific ad that his super PAC unleashes Marco Rubio or Scott Walker.

Everyone can relax. "Jeb Bush," in the amorphous sense of the whole apparatus that exists to win Jeb Bush the presidency, will get quite nasty at the precise moment that it becomes politically necessary, even if Jeb Bush personally just keeps prattling on about some tweak he wants to make to existing small business tax credits.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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