Jeb Bush says a new TV ad attacking his brother, put together by an outside Democratic group, is “disgraceful.” This comes after Jeb himself put out a meme after last week’s debate embracing his “he kept us” safe line from his exchange with celebrity businessman Donald Trump. It’s hard to see what exactly is “disgraceful” about criticizing the record of a former president just because he happens to be another candidate’s brother. Indeed, as Amanda Marcotte notes here, the “he kept us safe” line is problematic on the merits, unless you consider the catastrophic 9/11 attacks the world’s most epic presidential mulligan. Even post-9/11, which of course is what the defenders want to focus on, getting the country embroiled in the catastrophic and terrorism irrelevant Iraq War doesn’t look like such a great idea in retrospect either.
But for the purposes of 2016, I’d argue that all these substantive points are borderline irrelevant.
As I noted in yesterday’s post, Jeb Bush has a respectable presidential resume, vast sums of campaign money and at least some remaining powerbase in the critical state of Florida. Basically the one, single and only thing that he needed to focus on in this campaign was banking all the money and establishment support that went with his name while basically never mentioning his father and brother and finding a way to convince people he was, as he put it once, “his own man” rather than the warmed over ‘younger brother’ who now, painfully, happens to be almost exactly the same age his dad was when he ran for President in 1988. (Yes, Bush would be just a few days shy of 64 if he was sworn in in January 2017. His dad was 64.)
On Friday he actually assured a crowd that “I know how to do [foreign policy] because, yes, I am a Bush.” When you’ve said that, I think you’ve basically definitively failed except among a slice of establishment Republicans for whom the Bushes have always been the trusted and genteel option, even preferable to Reagan in many ways.
Admittedly, this was never going to be an easy needle to thread. The only reason Bush is or was the notional front runner is because of his name. It’s also a pretty big reason he was able to become a contender for the Florida governorship. And the last two Republican presidents were members of his immediately family. That’s a tough elephant in the room to ignore. But he seems to have managed it about as poorly as he possibly could. At this point his campaign slogan is effectively: “My older brother was awesome and kept us safe!”
It’s not simply that George W. Bush’s tenure is still quite unpopular with the country at large, though feelings have softened toward the man himself. It’s that quite obviously not being his own man makes Jeb look weak and silly, quite apart from being identified with policies that at least the general electorate remains broadly opposed to.
The Americans United for Change’s ad, which Jeb calls “disgraceful” is a rather transparent and, it would seem, extremely effective effort to pull Jeb into focusing even more of his campaign on talking about his brother and his generally discredited foreign policy.
And of course, Jeb’s falling for it totally.