When all else is failing, reinvent yourself.
This is the new strategy of Jeb Bush’s campaign. He’s not going to be so nice anymore.
Emerging from a weekend confab with family and donors, Bush is ready to rumble, loaded for bear. He'll dance like a butterfly, sting like a … WASP?
When Donald Trump goads him about his brother’s presidency, Bush will punch him in the nose. OK, probably not, but can’t a girl dream? It’s a fantastically entertaining thought, but Bush is probably better suited to a duel at dawn, which is not an endorsement of gun violence – nor dawn, though one is always keen to see another.
To sum up, Bush isn’t going to take it anymore. Which is cool, though maybe not as cool as not being president, which Bush hinted that he might prefer.
In South Carolina for a town hall meeting, Bush told the audience that if voters want more dysfunctional government, then by all means, vote for Donald Trump. Besides, he added, he has more awesome things he could be doing than being a miserable president.
Actually, it was less coherent than that. Here’s the quote:
“If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people are literally in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things that I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
I’m not so bothered that Jeb could be doing other cool things because of course a Bush could, if only he would. What bothers me is his estrangement from syntax. What is this man trying to say? Has a presidential candidate ever been so verbally challenged? Never mind.
But, seriously, what were all those words doing strung together so disjointedly? This election is a fight to do “nothing”? Bush doesn’t want to “see gridlock just become so dominant”? (Oh, golly, Miss Polly, I don’t either!!) “People are literally in decline in their lives”?
And, I’m sorry, what was the joke?
It’s certainly no laughing matter that Bush, whose first language is English, can’t manage to get out a simple, easily understood sentence.
Adding to his oratorical awkwardness, he basically dared his audience to send him packing while also insulting them. Quite a daring feat for a candidate polling in the single digits. Rather than offer the optimistic vision of a future President Bush, he was churlish and hectoring.
In reinventing Bush as a badass, campaign consultants may be trying too hard. What’s good about Bush can’t be improved by undoing what’s good about him. When people say he appears weak, they may be simply observing who Bush is. Not so much weak as a good, mid-20th-century WASP who was raised properly, is polite and considerate, knows not to interrupt or raise his voice – and is, therefore, completely out of place in a presidential race in a post-Bush, post-WASP, Kardashian world.
If some look forward to at least a high-energy exchange between Bush and Trump, who has spent the past 36 hours re-goading Bush about getting counseling from his mommy and daddy, I’m a bit nervous. This is because, like all middle children, I dislike conflict. I especially don’t like it when bullies pick on boys who don’t know how to fight.
You can look at Jeb and see that he’s not the fighter in the family. George W. could handle a barroom brawl. But not Jeb, who is more likely to check his cuticles – much the way his father checked his watch in a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot – than waste a manicure on a lesser mortal.
To be clear, I’m not challenging Bush’s manhood, but Trump certainly is. And Bush feels it. When the two men finally found a point of agreement during the second debate and did the manly high-five thing, which was actually a low-five, Bush slapped Trump a tad too hard, his face flickering with the delight of someone just discovering what fun it is to hit hard.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already beginning to miss the old Jeb Bush, Mr. Nice Guy.
Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.