Jeb Bush, the unlucky Bush
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There were brief flashes of brilliance by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the Republican debate on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. His description of a Donald Trump presidency being a "chaos presidency" was blunt and would be prophetic. His line that Trump's strategy was one of "insulting his way to the presidency" was original and memorable. But by far, the best quip was his reference to how the present front-runner gets his information "from the shows."


Bush inquired out loud if Trump meant those on Sunday morning or maybe Saturday morning. (That last mention, of course, is a reference to children's cartoons). All in all, Bush had a good night. He displayed some chutzpah — not a trait usually associated with him — and appeared more at ease in the limelight. His opening and closing statements, however, were bland and boring and left no lasting impression.

What is ironic about Jeb Bush is of the three Bushes, Jeb Bush appeared at first glance to be the most attractive and appealing. His father, President George H.W. Bush, was a decent individual who had served in many high-profile positions. He possessed a great deal of modesty and genuinely seemed interested in doing the right thing. His lifelong practice of writing thank-you notes to all in his own hand showed good upbringing and a touch of class.

But George H.W. Bush never captured the hearts of the man in the street. His New England preppy background did not connect with the majority of Americans. He at times seemed totally out of touch. His rise in the Republican Party was due to his long service. Most crucial was submerging his own ambition to serve as Ronald Reagan's vice president for eight years. That showed that he had paid his dues.

Philosophically, the first Bush was a raging moderate. He most likely took after his patrician father, Prescott Bush, who had been a Republican senator from Connecticut. But George H.W. Bush was also very careful not to come off to the GOP base as too far to the left. When necessary, which was often, he played ball with the right wing of the party, because if he didn't, he knew it would hurt his career.

If the senior Bush had some definite positive qualities, his son, President George W. Bush, was a blank slate. He had no previous record of accomplishment as governor of Texas. He'd mangle the English language so badly that it was a national embarrassment. Most of all — there is no other way to say it — he was not very smart. Worst of all, he led the country into a war in Iraq that was unnecessary. His reasons for starting it were fictitious and untrue. Personally, I don't think he actually won the election in 2000; the Supreme Court awarded him that false victory. He also was fortunate to have as his two Democratic opponents Vice President Al Gore and then-Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who were smart but dreadfully dull and never excited or inspired the party faithful.

It should be noted, too, that both George H.W. and George W. didn't like to get their hands dirty, so they delegated that work to party henchmen. In the case of George H.W., there was Lee Atwater — remember the Willie Horton episode? In the case of his son, there was Karl Rove.

When Jeb Bush announced earlier this year, he looked extremely presentable. First of all, unlike his older brother, he could complete a sentence in his native tongue. Nobody doubted his brain power and he had demonstrated an enlightened perspective on a variety of contentious and controversial issues. He had twice been elected governor of the most critical swing state (Florida) and had a nice and comforting presence about him. Couple this with his ability to raise big bucks and eliminate any other establishment figure from running (2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney), and his candidacy had the air of invincibility. What went wrong?

Nobody could have predicted the unbelievable rise of one Donald Trump. My theory is the following: The previous successful Bushes never allowed the GOP base of primary voters to truly know their centrist, moderate views. They paid the necessary and compulsory obedience to the right wing of the party so that their upward climb in the party would not be thwarted.

Jeb Bush was different. He came off as too candid and independent to the hard core of his party. He said it best early on, that he "might have to lose the primary to win the election." By that, he meant and knew that winning over the Republican voters who participate in the nominating process was, in no way, enough to win in a November general election. Independent voters would not buy a committed conservative. Bush was warning his party that if he became that, it would turn out to be a repeat of 1964, when Republican nominee Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide.

Jeb Bush seemed at the beginning to have the right mix. I remind everybody — as I have in previous columns — that not one vote has been cast. Bush might have some staying power if he is not wiped out in the early contests. It was his bad luck and maybe bad timing to face an angry and defiant GOP base that did not want or desire a third Bush. They were waiting to get even and atone for backing his brother and his father — they settled for those two. They never considered either one of them as true rock-ribbed conservatives.

Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) are their type of Republicans. They serve up the right combination of personality and ideology. This group of the extreme right-wing diehards doesn't give a damn about November; they just want the nomination prize.

Before I conclude, I must make two comments about Tuesday night's debate. First, Carly Fiorina, who displayed pandering at its worst, wearing a big cross to signal to the evangelicals in Iowa that she is one of them. Second, Hugh Hewitt, one of the panelists, applauding when Trump responded that he would not run as an independent candidate if he failed to win the Republican nomination. Hewitt is supposedly a journalist.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.