More of Bush Equals Less of Trump

Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CN
Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Perhaps the word most frequently associated with Jeb Bush's struggling presidential campaign has been "moribund." Indeed, a Google search of his name and that term yields nearly 50,000 results, which is remarkable since "moribund" is not exactly a word one often hears in conversation or reads in print. Among other similar constructions, Merriam-Webster defines the term as "being in a state of inactivity or obsolescence," no longer effective, "close to failure," and "close to death." That's a lot of weight to put on a campaign or an individual, but this critical sense of lacking vigor has been a label that's stuck.

In fact, Donald Trump has consistently chided Bush on the campaign trail for being "low energy" and thus reaffirmed the moribund tag on numerous occasions. And the polls have seemingly borne this out, placing Jeb in the first tier of GOP candidates but well out of range of the lead and rarely tabbed by pundits as even a dark-horse contender at this point. Still, of all the candidates lumped in the fading pack behind Trump, Jeb may have the most anti-Trump persona, and it's interesting to note that Bush likewise may be drawing more of Trump's caustic barbs again as the field of viable options narrows.

Of course, Jeb may also be provoking such exchanges, calling Trump a "chaos candidate" (after previously referring to him as "unhinged") and saying to him that "you're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency." This may well be a desperate attempt to reinvigorate a (you guessed it) moribund campaign, as Trump has asserted, but it might also reveal something deeper and even more compelling in a campaign season where the most interesting thing has been Trump's megalomania.

In short, such barbs from Bush have the potential to wrest the "plainspoken" mantle from Trump. While the latter has made a splash in the polls for his ostensibly unscripted diatribes and from-the-hip style, other candidates have seemed stilted and self-conscious in ways that only feed into Trump's "telling it like it is" branding. But with Bush beginning to slowly move to the fore of taking on Trump directly and in increasingly robust language, this may have the effect of seeming as if Bush is speaking truth to power -- or at least, speaking a truth that many outside of the "Trump Bubble" are thinking on a daily basis.

And this is where it gets potentially interesting: Bush could be positioning himself as a reasonable alternative to Trump, as the 180-degree option of choice when Trump's star fades and the party backlash ensues, and as the candidate most likely to succeed in the general election because of this. It may still be a longshot, and the myriad predictions of moribundity may well turn out to be accurate. Yet this posture, even if only fleeting, indicates something to be considered going forward -- namely that Trump is so far around the bend that even a candidate named Bush (with all of that attendant baggage) can seem like a reasonable alternative. Jeb is not George W., but it's still a telling and sobering moment.

Thus we arrive at an emerging ratio in which more of Bush equals less of Trump. With portmanteaus being the order of the day, we might call this phenomenon "Moribush" to bring it into sharper focus. This doesn't by any means suggest that more of Bush would inherently be a good thing, but for those (both inside the GOP and outside of it) who have had their fill of Trump by now, it may seem palatable. And that, in a final nod to ironic juxtapositions, could set up a Bush-Clinton redux on the big stage. Such an eventuality might be taken as a sign of our moribund politics in general, but that's for another day.