Jeb Isn’t Tough Enough

I kind of wanted to claw my eyeballs out after reading Ann Althouse’s take on Donald Trump’s emasculation of Jeb Bush. She is one strange lady. But I will say this: it’s never good when a male politician is made to look weak, and it’s particularly devastating when the office they seek is the presidency of the United States of America.

Donald Trump may mince around like a showgirl in Ms. Althouse’s imagination, but he’s got a left hook like Joe Frazier and he’s knocked Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, and Jeb Bush flat on their asses.

Now, for starters, Jeb Bush is supposed to be a colossus. With the amount of money he raised and his family’s deep connections in the Media Establishment and throughout the Republican Party all the way down to the precinct level, Jeb Bush is supposed to be intimidating. If you cross this family, you should expect to pay a heavy price. From Grandma Barbara on down, this group doesn’t even let the dish grow cold before they start exacting revenge. As for Dubya, he cut his teeth as the Sonny Corleone of the family, cutting people off, delivering the death stares, calling people on the carpet and even taking care of the most unpleasant firings. If Poppy was genteel and civilized, his boy-consigliere was a head-cracker. And when it came time for Dubya to become a politician in his own right, he brought on guys like Karl Rove and eventually Dick Cheney to show you how a ratfucking is properly applied.

You could run against them, and maybe even beat them, and you could cover them on your political beat, but you needed to show some respect or you’d know about it.

What Donald Trump has done is just waltz right in and show this family, and their second-rate Prince Harry, whatever is less than zero respect.

In a 35-minute interview this week with The Washington Post tracing his history with the Bushes, Trump unleashed a hailstorm of scorn. He found 33 ways to skewer the family — about one put-down per minute.

On Jeb Bush: “I mean, this guy. I don’t think he has a clue.”

On George H.W. Bush: “I really liked the father — really like him as a person. But I hated his ‘read my lips, no more taxes,’ and then he raised taxes monstrously.”

On George W. Bush: “He didn’t seem smart. I’d watch him in interviews and I’d look at people and ask, ‘Do you think he understands the question?’ ”

And back to Jeb: “He’s not up to snuff. . . . Jeb is never going to bring us to the promised land. He can’t.”

When he was conversing with the Washington Post editorial board and insulting the Bush family at a rate of approximately one dig per minute he went beyond vague broadsides and got quite personal. For example, here’s what he said about Jeb Bush taking a job with Lehman Brothers.

“This is huge. Let me ask you: Why would you pay a man $1.3 million a year for a no-show job at Lehman Brothers — which, when it failed, almost took the world with it?”

For whatever reason, Trump is just dripping with contempt for the Bushes, and has a particular dislike of Jeb.

But as they tapped putts on the manicured greens, something else was on Trump’s mind: Jeb Bush.

“He was trashing Jeb and, quite honestly, I don’t think he’s ever held Jeb in high regard,” said [Speaker of the Florida House] Steve Crisafulli, a Bush supporter who said he was “uncomfortable” with the conversation and defended the former Florida governor to Trump. “I’ve met with Mr. Trump on several occasions, and he’s constantly had things to say about Jeb. . . . He’s always had a negative connotation about Jeb.”

I guess it helps to be a billionaire if you want to go around trying to drum up business in Florida while absolutely trashing Jeb Bush at every opportunity. Mere mortals would never consider such effrontery, and they’d surely learn their lesson in short order.

There’s no doubt that Trump is a bully. But this is a case of a bully standing up to a bully and exposing the latter as a paper tiger. And this is really what GOP strategist Steve Schmidt was getting at when he said the following:

“Look, Jeb Bush was a very successful governor, he’s a thoughtful man, he was a good, conservative governor. But every day, Donald Trump is emasculating Jeb Bush, and Republican primary voters are not going to default to the establishment candidate who is being weakened by these attacks that go unresponded to.”

I don’t know how Jeb Bush thinks he is responding, but none of it is getting through. I hear nothing, and it’s basically like Trump has Jeb by the hair and is just dunking him repeatedly under the water while taunting him for being a weak and ineffectual and “low energy” loser.

When you’re getting abused like that, every effort to fight back just results in big gulps of chlorine.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he speaks at the 2015 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada July 11, 2015. REUTERS/L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he speaks at the 2015 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada July 11, 2015. REUTERS/L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun

And the results are in. Poll after poll after poll show that Jeb is increasingly an afterthought among Republican voters. I mean, Ed Kilgore did a good job of explaining this yesterday afternoon after he took a look at the highly esteemed Ann Selzer Iowa Poll:

According to this poll, Hillary Clinton is the favorite of 37% of likely Iowa Caucus-goers (45% if Joe Biden’s not included, as he should not be since he’s given zero public indication that he’s running). Jeb Bush is the favorite of 6% of likely Republican Caucus-goers.

Hillary Clinton’s favorability/unfavorability ratio among Iowa Democrats is 77/19 (pretty much the same as that of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden). Bush’s ratio is 45/50, trailing twelve GOP candidates in this basic measure of popularity. 13% of Democrats say they’d never vote for HRC. 39% of Republicans say they’d never vote for Bush.

In FiveThirtyEight’s point system for endorsements by statewide elected officials, Jeb Bush has 34 points. Hillary Clinton has 320.

But it’s not just Iowa. Bush can’t crack ten percent in New Hampshire or South Carolina or even in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

When Eric Cantor came out and endorsed Jeb, Trump mocked Cantor and called him a loser. When key members of Jeb’s finance team resigned this week, Trump reveled in the unseemliness of it all and said they were fleeing a sinking ship. Trump even used Jeb’s own mother in an advertisement against him.

This all might seem like playground stuff, but Jeb doesn’t compensate by going out and clearing brush on his ranch. He doesn’t even obsessively work out or go bicycling every damn where. He’s soft and doughy and low energy and non-threatening, and he just looks like a guy who wants to run the Pentagon but has been stripped of every last shred of toughness and masculinity.

It’s true that nine out of every ten things that Trump says are either untrue or insane, but when he goes after the Bush family what he says is generally accurate.

Now, as the National Review reminded us earlier this summer, back when Jeb was giving us the Hamlet routine about whether or not he’d actually run for president, he told everyone that he didn’t want to get into a nasty campaign:

Bush has been paying lip service to the politics of joy ever since his first flirtations with a presidential run last year. “The decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully?” he said in January 2014. “I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits. It’s a pretty pessimistic country right now.” In April 2014, he promised to push a “hopeful, optimistic message” and to avoid “the vortex of the mudfight.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last November, he talked about the “joy in [his] heart.”

Obviously, he thought he could get away with that kind of campaign or he would have taken a pass on the whole endeavor. Some people say that this shows that he doesn’t have the fire in the belly, and others say that it demonstrates his deep sense of entitlement. But what it really looks like is a guy who just isn’t ready for a fight.

And if I know anything about the Conservative Movement and the Republican base, it’s that they want to fight and they want a fighter to lead them. Jeb’s not that guy and he’s just never going to be that guy.

So, then, we must really start to contemplate who is going to be their nominee. Because someone has to stand up to Trump, and sure as shit isn’t going to be this guy:

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But, of course, we’ve seen Republican frontrunners come back from the brink of political death before. From the beginning, Jeb’s best argument for himself has been that the alternatives are unthinkable.

It’s just getting pretty hard to see the path that takes him to frontrunner status again. Jeb has been exposed and there just doesn’t seem to be anything in his skill set or temperament that will get him back on track.

In any case, there’s not much about Republican politics that is thinkable these days anyway.

Prepare for weirdness and be ready to fight.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.