After more than a year on the presidential campaign trail, Jeb Bush has experimented with a variety of postures. We’ve seen the wonky Jeb, the don’t-judge-me-by-my-last-name Jeb, the please-judge-me-by-my-last-name Jeb, the angry Jeb, the serious Jeb, and even the thoughtful Jeb.
Yesterday, however, was the first time I can remember seeing the maybe-I-just-don’t-care-anymore Jeb. I’ve watched this video several times, because it’s hard to know what to make of it.
CBS News’ Major Garrett asked the Florida Republican, “Can Jeb Bush be a surprise story here on caucus night?” The candidate, bemused, responded, “Yes, since the expectations are so low.”
Garrett, apparently unconcerned about twisting the knife, replied, “Well, you have succeeded there, governor.”
Bush, without missing a beat, raised his arms in triumph. Laughing a bit, he replied, “Mission accomplished.”
No, really. That’s what he said. Jeb seemed wholly unaware of the fact that someone with his last name might not want to associate the words “mission accomplished” with a looming disaster.
I’ve seen some suggestions that this might have been the single lowest point of Jeb Bush’s candidacy to date. We saw, on camera, a struggling candidate resigned to failure, practically mocking his own ineptitude, campaigning in a state in which his polling average puts him slightly below 4%.
But maybe there’s a more positive way to look at this.
Perhaps this was evidence of something new: liberated Jeb. Maybe not caring anymore, and laughing in the face of likely defeat, is exactly what Bush needs to deal his unique and unfortunate circumstances.
Note, hours after this brief interview with Garrett, Bush turned in his best debate performance to date last night. Indeed, Vox’s Dylan Matthews wrote in his debate recap, “Between Bush’s unusually good performance, Rubio’s unusually bad one, and the establishment-friendly moderators’ seeming grudge against Rubio, the debate might be seen as the point in which Marco Rubio relinquished the mantle of ‘most viable establishment candidate’ and Bush reclaimed it.”
I wouldn’t go quite that far – it’s probably too late for such a dramatic overhaul of insiders’ expectations – but the broader point has real merit. Maybe who-gives-a-darn Jeb should have hit the campaign trail sooner?