Jeb Bush's epic implosion: Why it's high time he gave up his presidential fantasy

Let's face it: Jeb sucks at this whole running-for-president thing, and he's just wasting our time now

By Gary Legum
Published October 17, 2015 10:30AM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
(Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Memo to Jeb Bush: Ignore mash notes like this one from Jennifer Rubin. Your presidential run is likely done.

Bush may not yet have packed it in, but we might as well start shoveling dirt on his campaign. The chances he can overcome poll numbers consistently stuck in single digits, the baggage of his last name and his near-daily gaffes, are slim to none. To paraphrase a famous comedy bit, his presidential ambitions’ metabolic processes are now history, they are off the twig, they have kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. THIS IS AN EX-CAMPAIGN!

Not that any of this will stop him from shambling forward through Iowa and New Hampshire like the most preppily-dressed zombie on “The Walking Dead.” After all, zombies don’t know they are dead until you drive a stake through their brains. No one has done that to the JEB! 2016 campaign yet. (Note to conservative readers: THIS IS A METAPHOR. I am in no way advocating actual, real violence against the person of Jeb Bush.) The GOP establishment is nervous but has not completely abandoned him yet. And he still has quite a bit of money on hand, thanks mostly to his super PAC.

All that said, the signs of a flailing, fading operation are everywhere. Bush’s third-quarter fundraising haul was mediocre. Last week Politico published two stories examining the campaign’s financial problems. Together they wove a tale of monetary woe for a candidate who was once expected to be the most formidable in the race: Bush has had to eschew private planes and fly commercial! He has had to stay in cheaper hotels! Some on his staff are taking pay cuts! (Recall that stories about slashed and eliminated salaries hit the Rick Perry campaign right before the former Texas governor dropped out of the race.)

Bush’s backers are nervous. One of them complained to Politico – anonymously – that donors are not seeing much “bang for their buck.” A Republican political consultant, who also remained anonymous, likened Bush’s predicament to the moment in “Predator” when Arnold Schwarzenegger says of the mysterious and wounded creature killing his team of soldiers, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Inspiring stuff!

Above all, there is the inarticulateness that makes Jeb! Bush’s father and brother sound like Cicero. His unartful comments on a handful of subjects suggest a man either saddled with a patrician’s tin ear, or a guy trying on the persona of a hard-right Washington hater and failing miserably. Just in the last few weeks, he has dismissed the idea of enacting gun control laws to reduce mass shootings as worthless because “stuff happens.” He has accused African-American voters of only voting for candidates who will give them “free stuff.” (Very big on the word “stuff,” is old Jeb.) Just the other day he suggested he’d like to start a recession in Washington, D.C. because somehow that would grow the economy everywhere else.

The incoherence appears to be genetic in the next generation of Bushes as well, which does this one no favors. It is a very bad sign for a campaign’s long-term viability when the fifth-place candidate in New Hampshire, a state conventional wisdom says he must win or at least give a strong showing in, is spending time and energy on petty squabbles with the fourth-place guy while the frontrunner is beating them both by 18 points and showing no signs of losing support.

At one time it was easy to think that Jeb! Bush was the most serious candidate in the race. He was a genial, moderate guy with governing experience and a reputation for serious policy wonkiness. He was the perfectly blow-dried candidate off of whom all the arrows fired by the strident blowhards running against him would bounce. When those guys had exhausted themselves and fallen by the wayside, Bush would cruise to the nomination, unruffled, ready to take the fight to the Democratic nominee in the general.

This analysis did not account for the utter batshit insanity of the GOP’s hard-right base and the party’s inability to co-opt it. Meanwhile, Bush’s tax and healthcare plans both turned out to be the same old smoke and mirrors claptrap that Republicans have been pushing for almost 40 years. Bush’s backers and his super PAC have raised well over $100 million this year alone and he has nothing but fifth place nationally and a downward trend in his poll numbers to show for it.

It’s possible that something unforeseen could happen, that Donald Trump and Ben Carson could implode and Bush will pick up enough of their supporters to make himself viable again. So he’ll keep going, out of stubbornness, delusion or both. But as the race stands now, there is nothing left for him to do but make his concession speech. Or, seeing as how he can’t open his mouth without gibberish pouring out of it, have someone else do it for him.

Gary Legum

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2016 Elections 2016 Republican Primary Editor's Picks Jeb Bush Jennifer Rubin