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Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem



Please clap,”Jeb Bush implored the crowd, as if he were trying to get their help to resurrect Tinker Bell after she heroically drank the poisonous brew of listening to his stump speech in its entirety. The former governor of Florida’s face was pained. The crowd was unenthused.

Just another humiliation in a rough campaign for Bush.

Bush, who served as Florida’s governor from 1999–2007, was the front-runner for the nomination only a year ago.

That he’s polling in the single digits now tells as much of a story about Bush the candidate as it does about the rest of the field.

In early 2015, a Jeb Bush Republican presidential nomination was likely, though not a lock. The former Florida governor had all the big money and the potential field looked good for his chances.

There were Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, but the Republican Party infantilized, hated, and ostracized the three respectively. There were others, like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and current New Jersey governor Chris Christie, but neither man seemed likely to outweigh Bush’s sense of destiny.

July 13, 2015, was the highest Bush ever got in the polls, rising to almost 18 percent support of likely Republican voters. It must have been a good day for Bush’s campaign office. It was also the beginning of the end.

Five days later, on July 18, Bush had dropped to 15.5 percent. Donald Trump, who had announced his run a month earlier, was climbing in the polls and had reached 15 percent support.

A month later, on August 26, Bush saw the last double digit polling numbers of the race.

Trump annihilated Bush, both in the polls and on the debate stage. The New York City billionaire has treated the Bush scion like a bully treats a particularly targeted nerd; relentlessly teasing and insulting Jeb until the former Florida governor was a shell of his former self.

In fact, the only debate where Bush has not seemed like a bleached, deflated wacky inflatable arm flailing tube man was the last debate before the caucuses, where Trump was a no show.

Trump’s absence allowed Bush to flex his debate muscles- but all evidence shows that it’s too late for that to make much of a difference in his political fortunes. Bush came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses, behind Rand Paul.

Paul’s fourth place showing was sufficiently embarrassing for him to drop out. But not for Bush!

He’s still making a play for New Hampshire, a state that almost certainly will vote for any combination of four or five men before him (Trump, Rubio, Cruz, Christie, Kasich). Perhaps this play is to save what little face he has left in the campaign; Bush partisans have been reported to be requesting Jeb donors wait until after the New Hampshire primary to start the flow of money to Rubio.

Bush, who must know by this point he has no shot whatsoever at the GOP nomination, is taking the opportunity of his last week of realistic campaigning to attempt to scuttle Rubio’s chances at the nomination.

The Florida Senator, who rode a wave of Tea Party support to the Senate in 2010, rose through the ranks of the Florida GOP establishment thanks in large part to the patronage of Governor Bush. That he is polling at least three to four times higher than his mentor in the race for the presidency must be rubbing salt into the wound.

It just doesn’t seem that people like Bush all that much.

Part of Bush’s unpopularity stems from the impression that he feels he deserves to be president, and doesn’t need to earn it.

Jeb gives one the impression that he feels the presidency is a legacy, like getting into Yale or making the varsity soccer team as a high-school freshman because of daddy’s business connections. Unfortunately for him, the base of the party he is running to lead grew up with people like that, and they hate them.

Even his support at home is lukewarm. His mother, whose help he enlisted in a cringeworthy campaign video, threw shade on his run for the nomination in 2013. His father and brother have tried to help, but the latter has so completely destroyed the family name in politics that his presence is more a hindrance than anything else.

As someone who suffered through his brother’s presidency as an adult, it’s been cathartic to watch Bush’s absolute disaster of a campaign for the Republican nomination in 2016.

That the same man who set up an electoral heist for his brother and subjected us to the first half of eight years of horror in the opening of this century is now reduced to begging for affection from Iowans and New Hampshirites is a small victory.

But I’ll take it.

Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

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