Ten moments that doomed Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign

Jeb Bush was considered the dominant front-runner when he entered the Republican presidential race last June. Then it all fell apart. 

Bush committed a series of gaffes, rivals attacked him with abandon — most notably Donald Trump, whose “low energy” label stuck to Bush like glue — and the former Florida governor sank in the polls.

{mosads}Bush ended his presidential bid on Saturday after he failed to win 10 percent of the vote in South Carolina and finished well behind Trump. The Palmetto State denouement followed disappointing results in the Iowa caucuses, where he placed sixth, and the New Hampshire primary, where he finished fourth.

Bush’s campaign has reached the end of the road. Here’s a look back at some of the potholes he hit along the way.

The Iraq question

Before he was out of the gate, Bush struggled for days to produce a clear answer to questions about the Iraq War launched by his brother, President George W. Bush. 

The week-long controversy began with an interview on Fox News in May, a month before Bush formally entered the race. Host Megyn Kelly asked him whether, “knowing what we know now” about faulty U.S. intelligence and a lack of weapons of mass destruction, he would have invaded Iraq in 2003. Bush said he would.

Amid consternation, the governor later said he had misheard the question and wasn’t sure what he would do. Then he said that discussing hypotheticals would be a “disservice” to fallen troops.

Finally, during an appearance in Arizona, he stated, “I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

The confusion — and the agonizingly slow u-turn on a question Bush must have known he was going to face — raised early doubts about his candidacy.

‘Not sure’ about women’s health funding

Bush’s tendency to speak freely — and sometimes to think out loud in public — got him into difficulty a number of times during his campaign. 

In early August, he questioned whether the $500 million Planned Parenthood receives in federal funds each year could be put to better use. But it was a single clause within those remarks — “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues” — that sparked controversy.

Hillary Clinton was among those who seized on the remark, tweeting that Bush was “absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”

Bush’s full comment, made at the Southern Baptist Convention, was:

“You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine community health organizations that exist to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues.”

Bush later said he misspoke. But, coupled with other gaffes, the controversy put him on his heels heading into the first GOP debate on Aug. 6.

‘Anchor babies’ and ‘Asian people’

Bush defended his use of the term “anchor babies” — panned by critics as derogatory — during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in August. But he inadvertently fanned criticism by stating that his use of the term applied more to “Asian people” than to any other ethnic group.

“What I’m talking about is the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts — frankly, it’s more related to Asian people — coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of that noble concept, which is birthright citizenship,” Bush said.

The head-scratching remark was never adequately explained.


Bush suffered endless ridicule from Trump for relying on his first name in campaign advertising, something that the former Florida governor had done in multiple campaigns going back to 1994. 

The addition of the exclamation point was the subject of even wider mockery.

“It connotes excitement,” Bush told late-night host Stephen Colbert in September of his “Jeb!” logo.

The exclamation mark came to be seen as more and more incongruous given the former Florida governor’s struggles to elicit enthusiasm from voters. When asked by a reporter recently if the exclamation point was still appropriate, Bush retorted: “Take a hike, man.”

‘Stuff happens’

Bush’s think-out-loud tendency struck again in early October. In the wake of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., Bush ill-advisedly used the phrase “stuff happens” in the middle of a broader point about the efficacy of gun control.

President Obama held a news conference on that same day, at which he was asked about Bush’s comment.

“I don’t even think I have to react to that,” the president said. “I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgment based on the fact that every couple of months we have a mass shooting. And … they can decide whether they consider that ‘stuff happens.’”

A debate attack backfires

Struggling to find his footing several months into the race, Bush opened up a line of attack on Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) during the third Republican debate in Colorado in late October. 

The long-simmering feud burst into the open when Bush went after his former mentee for missing votes in the Senate, suggesting Rubio “campaign or just resign.”

Bush’s body language suggested an uneasiness even making the attack, and the problem was exacerbated when a calm Rubio shot back that “someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” 

It was one of the most memorable debate moments up to that point and a deeply damaging one for Bush.

‘Jeb Can Fix It’

Following that October debate, Bush began a “Jeb Can Fix It” tour in an effort to re-launch his flagging campaign. The push coincided with the release of a new 730-page e-book of emails from his time as governor. The effort seemed as much aimed at calming nervous donors as attracting new supporters. 

His polling figures refused to budge. Meanwhile, the website continues to direct traffic to a website for a Texan who unsuccessfully ran for city council in Austin. ( continues to redirect to Trump’s website.)

The hotness of ‘Supergirl’

Some of Bush’s most memorable moments were awkward rather than substantively awful. 

In October, he fielded a question about his favorite superhero at the end of a lengthy policy forum in Las Vegas, saying he’d seen a promo for a new season of “Supergirl.”

“She looked pretty hot,” Bush said of the show’s star, Melissa Benoist. The actress later laughed it off, saying she didn’t know what to think but that she was excited that Bush wanted to watch the show. 

In a similarly uncomfortable vein during a televised debate at the end of that month, Bush offered a “warm kiss” to any Democrat who would promise to help cut taxes and cut spending.

‘Please clap’

During a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Feb. 2, a day after taking a dismal 3 percent in the Iowa caucuses, Bush’s fiery call for the country to elect a strong commander in chief was met with silence.

“Please clap,” Bush deadpanned. The crowd laughed. But the moment went viral on social media, as a snapshot of the apparent futility of Bush’s campaign.

‘America’ and guns

In the twilight of his campaign, Bush’s official account tweeted a picture of a gun engraved with his name. The photo was accompanied by only one word: “America.”

The tweet seemed intended to appeal to gun rights enthusiasts, especially in South Carolina, which was due to hold its primary four days later.

But the tweet caused a storm on social media, and many saw the move as a desperation bid. 

The New York Daily News, which has been advocating for increased gun control, put the tweet on its front page on Feb. 17. The headline read, “Dolt .45.”

Tags Donald Trump GOP presidential primary Hillary Clinton Jeb Bush Marco Rubio Ted Cruz
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