After Wednesday night’s cringe-inducing debate performance, there’s no longer any doubt: Jeb Bush doesn’t want to be president. There was one moment, early on, when it seemed otherwise, and Bush went directly at Senator Marco Rubio for his absenteeism.
“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush said. “Literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French work week? You get like three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well. They’re looking for a senator that will fight for them each and every day.”
That was pretty feisty, for Jeb. But Rubio endured the attack calmly, and then, more in sorrow than anger, hit Bush for desperation. Senator John McCain missed a lot of votes in 2008, he observed, but Bush didn’t criticize him. “The only reason you are doing it now,” he said, “is because we are running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
That was it. Bush didn’t follow up, which left the unmistakable impression that he thought Rubio was right. (And he probably was.) He was never a factor again—except maybe when he grossed out the audience by promising a “warm kiss” to any Democrat who wants to cut federal spending.
The debate made obvious what’s been pretty clear for quite a while: Bush is among the many lower-tier candidates who lacks a rationale for his campaign, and who needs to leave the race if so-called “establishment” Republicans want to defeat outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson. At the Daily Caller Thursday morning, Matt Lewis concluded, “It’s time for Jeb Bush to call it quits.” Expect more such calls in the days to come.
Other than that, I’m not sure what the debate proved, except that all the GOP candidates are very angry, and they’re running not so much against one another as against reality. Virtually all of them attacked the allegedly liberal mainstream media; ABC News counted 12 media hits; I lost count. From Rubio, who blamed the media for hyping his absenteeism while ignoring that of Senator Barack Obama in 2008, to Senator Ted Cruz, who played the unlikely role of peacemaker among his rivals as he attacked the moderators for baiting them, most of the candidates seized a moment to bash journalists.
It got lots of audience applause and lit up social media, but nobody is likely to get the boost Newt Gingrich got in 2012, when he hit moderator Juan Williams in the Fox debate in South Carolina. By now it feels standard for GOP candidates to hit the media, malign debate moderators, and mostly ignore the issues.