As recently as two weeks ago, Jeb Bush still wouldn’t even admit he’s running for president. The former Florida governor said he’d “like to run,” but the Republican insisted he hadn’t yet “made the decision.” He even managed to say this with a straight face.
Two weeks later, Bush has evidently made up his mind. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported this morning on the former governor’s plans, including a scheduled kickoff at 3 p.m. in his adopted hometown of Miami.
“I need to sharpen the saw, I need to go to mass, I need to be with my grandkids,” Bush told NBC News’ Chris Jansing in a one-on-one interview after an information session with Estonian tech officials and entrepreneurs. “I just need to decompress a little bit. On Sunday, I get to do that and I’ve always found that to be important, and then Monday, just have fun – It’s going to be an exciting time. I’m really excited about this.”“We can fix these things,” he said, when asked about his message on Monday. “We can fix the problems that people think are intractable. With leadership we can move forward again. We can be the greatest country on the face of the Earth again, I truly believe it.”
As a rule, presidential candidates tend to believe the United States is already the greatest country in the world, not awaiting greatness based on voters’ willingness to elect Jeb Bush.
By most measures, the Republican candidate probably expected this to be a little less “exciting” at this stage of the race. Bush launched his national operation surprisingly early, no doubt with a specific strategy in mind: he would position himself as the GOP frontrunner, secure an overwhelming financial advantage, lock down support from the party establishment, and intimidate potential rivals out of the race altogether.
If this was the plan, it clearly hasn’t worked. National polling suggests Bush really isn’t the frontrunner in any quantifiable way, and if he does the lead the pack, he’s the weakest Republican frontrunner in the modern era. As for a “shock-and-awe” approach to keeping candidates out of the race, Bush hasn’t intimidated anyone – the GOP field just keeps growing.
Indeed, it’s hard to find a Republican official who isn’t related to Bush or in his employ who seems genuinely impressed with his national campaign to date.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Lindsey Graham backer, told the New York Times the other day, “He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush. And that’s been a hindrance to him.”
I’m not altogether sure what the quote means – exactly what is expectation level “of a Bush”? – but such quotes are not uncommon. Jeb simply isn’t impressing anyone very much.
Oddly enough, ask Democratic officials privately, and they’re nearly unanimous in their predictions: Jeb Bush is the likely Republican nominee. Voice skepticism, and Democratic officials tend to waste no time summarizing the elements working in his favor: Bush is a prolific fundraiser, which can sustain his candidacy for a very long time. He’s probably better positioned than any Republican to compete for Latino votes, and he’s a strong contender in Florida, which remains the nation’s largest swing state. The media, meanwhile, tends to present him as a responsible, mainstream figure, unmoved by all the evidence to the contrary.
Besides, Democrats say, the GOP establishment nearly always picks the eventual nominee.
These are fair points, but I’m skeptical. Yes, the establishment pick usually prevails, but it usually doesn’t have a lot of choices, and even at this stage, the establishment is taking its time rallying behind the former governor. Yes, Bush can raise lots of money, but if he falters early, party money will flow quickly elsewhere.
Yes, Bush led Florida, but it’s been a while, and “nearly three-quarters of Florida’s 12.9 million currently registered voters have never even seen Bush’s name on a ballot.”
My big-picture take on Jeb has long been that he’ll face a natural, unavoidable resistance – the result of his last name – which he can only overcome by being an exceptional candidate.
And if there’s one thing that’s become all too clear over the last several months, there’s simply nothing exceptional about Bush’s candidacy. On the contrary, he’s proven himself to be an underwhelming, lackluster candidate with no real vision or rationale.
That may change and Bush will have time and resources to improve. In fact, despite all of his troubles, he still enters the race as a top-tier competitor, and most of the GOP field would gladly trade places with him.
But Bush’s air of inevitability is gone; his air of competence is shaken; his air of wonkiness is shattered, and his intention to run as his “own man” went out the window months ago.