I spent a fair budget of Monday going back and forth to my computer, checking the wire reports on a hunch for official word that Jeb Bush was dropping out of the 2016 presidential race. As of this writing, that announcement has not arrived, but I feel it in my bones: It’s coming.
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Mr. Inevitable, you see, is getting creamed. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are eating his lunch. His poll numbers are so close to nothing as to make no practical difference. Matt Lauer tagged him on this during a recent appearance on “The Today Show”: “You are losing in the polls to the host of Celebrity Apprentice.”
Early on in the campaign, he tapped his father’s campaign finance network, and they gave … but now, they’ve given to the limit, and he’s not collecting new donors. The base of the party has turned its collective back on him. His cash flow is an ebb tide; in the third quarter fundraising period, he spent nearly as much as he took in, and has a pittance, given the realities of modern campaign financing, left on hand.
On Friday – the news day when these people hope no one is looking – Bush announced a major evisceration of the campaign. Mass firings of staff members, and a 40 percent cut in payroll, including funds for travel … and if you can’t travel as a candidate, you’re not a candidate; you’re just a guy on TV with an exclamation point after your name on the campaign posters you can no longer afford to print.
Also on Friday, CBS News reported that the candidate would be attending a summit with his father, George H.W. Bush, and his brother, George W. Bush, to discuss the ongoing viability of his run. This was pathetic on a truly grand scale. Here is a candidate for the presidency of the United States running to Daddy for help … and running to the worst president in the history of the country for advice. One may as well ask a car wreck for wisdom.
October has been the cruelest month for Jeb Bush. It was revealed that he has his own email scandal brewing, one that appears to have far more substance than his assumed Democratic opponent. The New York Times revealed that half his fortune came from businesses he worked with while governor of Florida. At an event in South Carolina a few days ago, in which he shared the stage with none other than Trey Gowdy, author of that nifty little Hillary-Benghazi Fail hearing, Bush had himself a nifty little meltdown. “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them,” he spat. “That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
Perhaps Jeb Bush simply doesn’t have what it takes to be a national candidate. Perhaps his father’s network of campaign contributors isn’t enough to overcome his deficiencies on the trail. Perhaps the campaign hasn’t massaged the media to their satisfaction. Perhaps his numbers are being skewed by the fact that he is running in a forest of more than a dozen other GOP candidates, including one tragically-coiffed celebrity who has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
I have a different theory that can be summed up with a single word: “Bush.”
After Jeb, Daddy and W. had their little confab, W. spoke to a gathering of fundraisers and supporters to heap praise upon his brother. Now, I might be off-base here, but I’m pretty sure that a candidate would rather have Genghis Khan stand up for him than George W. Bush if they had any sense.
The GOP base already hates Bush Sr. for his broken “Read my lips” tax pledge, and because he had the audacity to lose an election to Bill Clinton. As for George W., well … what is there to say that hasn’t been said? He presided over a catastrophic terrorist attack while “protecting us,” led the nation into two disastrous wars, looted the Treasury, and watched the economy melt down with a “What me worry?” look on his face … and that’s the short version.
American voters are often accused of having short memories, and more often than not the accusation rings true. The name Bush, however, has been in their faces since 1980, with a special turn of the screw since 2001. Harry Truman once asked, “How many times do you have to get hit over the head until you figure out who’s hitting you?” The idea of another Bush in the White House, I think, makes most folks want to run up a tree. The name is a vat of poison very few want to crack open again.
I could easily be wrong. Jeb could lay his shoulder to the wheel and win through … but if I were in the big room at the MGM Grand in Vegas, and “Jeb Out Before Christmas” crossed the board, I’d bet my blood on it. This sad little road show is running on three flat tires. The fourth is about to blow.
“What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare.
Everything, if that name is Bush.