A Bushwhacking

Detail: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The Detroit event is the first in a series of stops that Bush's team is calling his "Right to Rise" tour. That's also the name of the political action committee he formed in December 2014 to allow him to explore a presidential run. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Jeb. All he did was participate in a time-honored tradition among political elites – giving each other awards as a celebration of shared power and influence. It probably didn’t even occur to him that by putting a medal around Hillary Clinton’s neck he was implicating himself in the most significant and far-reaching political scandal of our age.”

Simon Maloy

One might be tempted to wonder what chance Jeb Bush has if the hard right not only isn’t behind him but, actually, stands in specific opposition. And, certes, we have the example of Mitt Romney to consider. But then arises the question of just how far a hardline conservative candidate can make it in the general election; while a Clinton-Bush showdown is often spoken of as a tiresome prospect, who here really thinks enough people in enough states will be able to rationalize, even to themselves, the idea of being an “independent” or “centrist”, and give their vote to a Rubio or Paul? True, most people who call themselves “independent” are actually Republicans afraid to admit their real party identification, but the way in which they push back against that argument is to reject the hardliners.

As Simon Maloy explains:

The explanation ForAmerica offers for why this video disqualifies Jeb is that Hillary will use it to defang any attacks he might direct at her record as secretary of state. “Jeb has absolutely no credibility to criticize her because he has already anointed her as a great public servant.” Eh, perhaps? If you go and watch Hillary’s full remarks, she celebrates Jeb and the whole Bush family for sharing her love of America and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. Treating praise for the enemy as an unforgiveable political sin is problematic since part of being a politician is showing magnanimity by mechanically lauding your opponents’ patriotism and shared love of public service.

But this is Benghazi we’re talking about, and there’s nothing more important in the minds of conservative activists when it comes to Hillary Clinton and 2016. Jeb hasn’t really said a whole lot about Benghazi (at least not compared to some of his 2016 rivals) but when he has remarked on it, he’s said what conservatives want to hear – that it showed weakness, emboldened enemies, etc. If there’s danger for Jeb, it’s that he’ll come off as a squish compared to other would-be candidates like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who declares every few months or so that Benghazi disqualifies Hillary from ever holding public office again.

The reality television market sector has nothing to compare to the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and the upcoming electoral season―the Ames Straw Poll is all of six months away―would appear to be promisimg an even bigger spectacle. GOP 2016 is going to be a show of shows, and Americans who plan to travel abroad between then and the presidential election should probably spend some time rehearsing their sheepish shrugs and noncommittal answers for when our international neighbors ask them just what the hell is going on in the U.S.

Such as it is, one fun exercise in smacking our heads against desks will come in trying to comprehend how the Republican clown car steers its way back toward the political center; leading prognostications suggest the press will help by moving the center in relation to wherever the GOP troupe crashes.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen (1, 2, 3) races to keep up with the cascade of other, more relevant questions about Jeb Bush’s electabilityα.

In these United States we have strange notions about what is politically disqualifying. To the one, there are times when extramarital affairs matter more to public policy than others, like if one is a professional moralist. To the other, though, we have this weird example where a longtime political hand, in this case L. Brent Bozell III, suddenly pretends that a longstanding political ritual is new and shocking, and declares a fellow conservative disqualified for being unelectable. There are a number of tempting angles to this pitch, such as the aforementioned question of just how much the swing bloc will sympathize with hardliners, or this ludicrous pretense we’ve heard throughout the Obama tenure about how everything this president does is new and shocking when it is in fact neither. But strangely what we don’t seem to wonder about at this valence are questions like the proposition that Jeb Bush doesn’t know the difference between Iraq and Iran, cannot properly identify foreign nations … you know, Zach Beauchamp of Vox.com probably explains it better:

The speech wasn’t so bad it disqualifies him from running, but the negative press is still a problem for him. One of the goals of the address was for Bush to begin distancing himself from his brother without totally repudiating his legacy, saying things like “I am my own man.” It’s important for Jeb’s candidacy that he still be seen as far more competent than George W. Bush.

Malapropisms that recall his brother’s famous tendency to put his foot-in-mouth damage that perception and create an incentive for reporters covering Jeb to amplify his misstatements. That’s especially true on foreign policy, where Jeb is relatively inexperienced and George W. made his most famous mistakes.

And while this sort of armchair discussion does, in fact, waste airtime, column inches, electricity, human resources, &c., that could be more useful attending other events and issues in the world―“Bow-coo Harm”, as Jeb would call them, are not the only challenge facing women in Nigeria, for instance―it is also true that there are different kinds and qualities of armchair discussion taking place. Compare the questions arising in the critique of Jeb Bush’s capabilities to the questions arising in the wailing and moaning about his participation in a poiltical ritual in which Hillary Clinton received a largely meaningless medal and thus the plummet straight down the rabbit hole and back into Benghazigate. Regardless of how one might feel about, say, msnbc or Vox or the liberal media conspiracy at WaPo or NYT, at least that version of the preseason armchair wonkery considers reality. The other, at best, hopes to alarm the base blocs so that people will send someone else money.

And that, in itself, is enough to make one want to feel sorry for Jeb Bush, as well as the nation at large. It seemed generally comprehensible, compared to the 2012 clown car, that Mitt Romney emerged as the actual nominee, and to some degree we were all rather quite surprised at just how badly he executed his campaign. But for voters, at least that crash-and-burn was somewhat unexpectedβ; imagine Rick Perry, or Rick Santorum (or Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain or … or … right), and how their delusional, oft-ignorant, populist idiocy would have played in the general.

There are many Democratic supporters who actually fret over the seeming inevitability of a Hillary Clinton run; the nation itself might groan at the thought of a dynastic Bush-Clinton rematch. And the question remains whether our United States can actually do any better than the electoral version of a Hollywood reboot. It is hardly an endorsement of Jeb Bush to compare him so directly to Mitt Romney, but there is a massive sector of our public discourse, one with enough gravity to affect the news cycle, anxious to wallow in the sort of sleazy futility gleefully hitting the latest Republican scion from his right flank. And this, in turn, is more than Jeb Bush’s problem. It’s all of ours.


α One of Benen’s strong suits, of course, is narrative; but for those who are inclined to doubt the word of an msnbc producer on the staff of The Rachel Maddow Show, it should be enough to note that he is at least confident enough in his narrative to show you where he’s getting it all. As such, Benen is a quick route to point readers to other writers, like Chris Cillizza, Dana Milbank, and Matea Gold (WaPo); Kasie Hunt (msnbc); Steve Eder and Michael Barbaro (NYT); and so on. In other words, while commenting on the reporting, he points you to the reports. And as with most narratives, the reliability of the translation from report to commentary is the key to credibility. Compare this to other narratives; for instance, did you know that holding up your index finger is a “Muslim gang sign”? Narrative is one thing, and narrative style another; narrative reliability, however, is not necessarily on everyone’s agenda, as we tend to find when we delve into the world of FOX News or Rush Limbaugh.

β Remember that Mitt’s infamous mendacity was largely a deviation of magnitude and frequency from the standard fare of political lies Americans tend to tolerate, and that in turn was cast large on our screens as he lowered his head and bulled forward with the excrement, anyway.

Maloy, Simon. “Jeb-ghazi: A conservative group’s hilarious campaign to tie Jeb Bush to Benghazi”. Salon. 19 February 2015.

Benen, Steve. “A passive-voice Bush Family tradition”. msnbc. 18 February 2015.

—————. “Jeb Bush’s dubious new pitch: ‘I am my own man'”. msnbc. 18 February 2015.

—————. “A failure of substance and style”. msnbc. 19 Feburary 2015.

O’Keefe, Ed. “In video, conservative group labels Jeb Bush ‘unelectable'”. The Washington Post. 19 February 2015.

Beauchamp, Zack. “6 cringeworthy moments in Jeb Bush’s foreign policy speech”. Vox. 18 February 2015.

Gertz, Matt. “The Unbearable Stupidity Of Obama’s ‘Muslim Gang Sign'”. Media Matters for America. 18 February 2015.

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