It’s amazing how quickly a tired cliché of American punditry—“Jeb Bush, the smart brother, really should have been the president”—has given way to a new one: “Remember when people said Jeb Bush was the smart brother who really should have been the president?”
Running one of the worst presidential campaigns in modern history, Bush tried to give his candidacy new life this weekend, and instead summed up everything that’s wrong with it. He told a crowd in South Carolina, “If this is an election about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people are literally in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. 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. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
I get the overall point he’s making. He harks back to a time when politics was more civil, and the two parties could come together to get things done. And it’s a staple of campaign rhetoric to say: “If you want [insert hellish outcome here], then elect the other guy.”
But poor entitled Jeb can’t help himself; he’s got to make it all about him. “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around being miserable.” That’s a campaign slogan, all right. Elect the rich guy who could be doing “really cool things,” but gave them up for his country!
Donald Trump could be doing “really cool things,” of course, but he thinks the coolest of all, right now, is running for president. He’s enjoying himself, being a gremlin, saying whatever he wants and watching his poll numbers climb (except in Iowa). I really do understand paranoid Republicans who think Trump is a Democratic plant. (Remember, Bill Clinton called to encourage his candidacy!)
It’s not only that Trump would be a weak GOP nominee if he prevails; it’s that he’s been particularly and skillfully devastating to Bush, the former front-runner. It’s more than the charge that Bush is “low energy”—which sounds a little like those commercials for guys with “low-T,” a dog-whistle insult to Bush’s manhood. It’s the way Trump played Bush into a devastating defense of his brother’s national-security record, which will probably doom his campaign for the Republican nomination, but if it doesn’t, will leave him gravely wounded in a general-election campaign.
Trump has stubbornly mocked Bush’s claim that George W. Bush “kept us safe,” which seemed to ignore the fact that his brother was actually president on 9/11/2001, the day the United States suffered the most devastating attack in history. The mogul continued to troll Bush in speeches and on Twitter, expanding his critique to Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq “when there were no weapons of mass destruction? Bad info?”