"Look, my brother responded to a crisis, and he did it as you would hope a president would do. He united the country. He organized our country and he kept us safe. And there's no denying that. The great majority of Americans believe that. And I don't know why he [Donald Trump] keeps bringing this up."
Jeb Bush, October 19
The mythology is that Jeb Bush is destiny. This fantasy enabled Mitt Romney to disown another run. Mitt Romney fell for the Establishment Bluff.
It was, the conventional wisdom went, in the bag for Jeb. Then came Donald Trump. So goes the myth that will not die, but just fade away.
Actually, Jeb's candidacy was implausible at the outset, because there is Bush fatigue. The Bush family is decent and honorable. George H.W. Bush served his nation nobly. George W. Bush brought good intentions. And Jeb is a class act. But Americans are not into dynasties, and they cannot grasp: why Jeb now?
What of a classic Jeb Bush-Hillary Clinton race? That electoral outcome was preordained over the last two decades, with Jeb losing. That's because incompetent Beltway Republicans allowed Americans to believe (maybe forever) that Bill Clinton was a peace-and-prosperity president. Here's the real story. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire, Clinton inherited a peaceful world. Even so and scarcely known, Clinton botched a chance for a two-state solution by resurrecting a discredited, weakened Yassir Arafat, then anathema to the Saudis and other Arabs. And as a result of the business cycle and the Internet (no thanks to Al Gore), and policies of a Republican Congress elected in 1994, the American economy boomed under Clinton. Even so and hardly acknowledged, Clinton started the policies, unchecked by Bush, that would eventually create the housing bubble and meltdown.
In contrast, what about President George W. Bush's story line? George W. Bush has been discredited, fairly or not, as the president who started an economic collapse that we still feel and who led America into a failed war with enormous costs in lives and treasure. That's not a narrative for Jeb to run on, and Donald Trump knows it.
In the last few days, Donald Trump in his folksy manner again is defaming the Bush brand. This time, it's this: 9-11 happened under President George W. Bush's watch, so "W" should be held responsible. Under Trump, Trump says, 9-11 would not have happened because of his "strong immigration policies" (actually, these murderers entered the U.S. legally). Well, it's true that Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism specialist, and various CIA senior operatives worried, on the record then, that the Bush Administration, all of eight months old, was insufficiently focused on Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden. But truth be told, it was President Clinton who passed up one opportunity, maybe two, to liquidate Bin Laden, already certified as a terrorist who had murdered Americans. Cyrus Nowrasteh's brilliant ABC documentary dramatized the Clinton Administration's malfeasance and culpability, and also the Bush Administration's bureaucratic mistakes that allowed 9-11 to happen.
Jeb Bush has collapsed in the polls. Why does Trump then continue to attack Jeb, now by proxy -- going after George W. Bush? Well, Trump does not hesitate to kick someone when he's down. Trump is still critical of Ron Paul, who is on his way out, and Rick Perry and Scott Walker, who are out. This is part of Trump's shtick -- he trades on his image as a take-charge executive and tough negotiator who "hits hard" if they "hit me first."
Trump is his own strategist and tactician. In raising 9-11, Trump implicitly depicts George W. Bush as a detached chief executive. In this way, Trump draws a contrast with himself, a hands-on CEO. Why does Trump pursue another Bush gambit? Trump does it again, because he wants Jeb to defend George W. And Jeb takes the bait. So, Trump the Outsider is back in the news. He is on offense, with Jeb as prop.
Trump is shrewd. He has often used "low energy Jeb" as code words for what I call "Bush fatigue." He knows that Jeb's $100 million SuperPAC cannot salvage Jeb but could hurt Trump with negative advertising in key primary states. So Trump preemptively wants to discredit both Jeb and his backers. And that's not hard. Recall that Jeb wisely announced as "my own man" but then surrounded himself with cronies from two Bush Administrations. And in all these months Jeb hasn't stopped talking about "my father" and "my brother." For Trump, Jeb's Big Money proves two points. Jeb is beholden to them. And Trump is not.
There is irony in all this. If Jeb had a different last name, he might be viable.