Has Jeb been having a bad week, or what? It started with Roger Simon asking if he’d been dropped on his head as a child. Today Karl Rove gingerly tip-toed around endorsing him. Gail Collins flat-out said Jeb Bush is awful.
What seems to have slipped out is that Jeb may be just as dim as his older brother George. If we hadn’t realized that before, it’s possibly because Jeb never affected a dopey Texas accent or an idiot-child smirk and learned to chew his food with his mouth closed. Otherwise …
Jeb Disaster Week began on Monday, when this happened on Fox News —
Megyn Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Jeb Bush: I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.
I should mention that this was shortly after Jeb was reported to have told private financiers that brother George was his go-to guy on Middle East matters.
Phillip Bump provides us with the Fox News statement and all of the subsequent walkbacks and clarifications. Jeb said he hadn’t heard the question correctly, which is possible, and he thought he was being asked if going into Iraq was the right decision at the time. But even if that’s what he meant, (a) it wasn’t [*]; and (b) he then goes on and on about how the reason Iraq didn’t turn out so well was that mistakes were made after the invasion.
As the week went on, Jeb went from yes to maybe to who knows? Finally, yesterday, he said at a town hall meeting that knowing what we know now, he would not have invaded Iraq.
Many have already expressed astonishment that Jeb wasn’t better prepared for this question. Gail Collins:
The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn’t keep his “I’m-my-own-man” mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn’t know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.
His dayslong bobble became the talk of Republican politics, from the campaign trail in Nevada to Washington. A group of Republican senators meeting this week on Capitol Hill were nearly incredulous that Mr. Bush did not have a better answer and joked about how many press aides he needed to respond to such a basic matter, according to a party strategist who heard the conversation.
“Jeb’s curb appeal was supposed to be experience, pedigree and smarts, and therefore ready to lead,” said one Republican senator, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about a presidential hopeful. “These kinds of statements plant him squarely in the middle of the primary pack — with G.O.P. voters unsure of exactly what political lessons he truly has learned.”
FYI, this week’s Fox News poll shows Jeb Bush tied for first place for the GOP nomination with Dr. Ben Carson. Walker, Huckabee and Rubio round out the top five.
Today Paul Krugman weighed in on Jeb’s Very Bad Week, and here’s just a bit:
Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.
Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.
In Bushworld, in other words, playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.
It’s possible Jeb’s campaign can survive, but Jeb wasn’t just supposed to be the smarter brother; he was the “serious” candidate, the one who didn’t come across as a refugee from Barnum and Bailey. I wonder how much attention he’s paid to the national mood since he left the Florida governor’s office in 2007. Has he spent the last eight years locked in a time capsule? Or was he never that sharp to begin with?
Update: Josh Marshall writes,
It is one of the key features of early 21st century political campaigns and political life in general that every political figure requires a chorus of dedicated partisans who lay down the equivalent of covering fire in their leader’s defense. Sometimes this happens with a political figure who attracts intense loyalty. But that’s seldom required. Partisans on both sides of the political divide will generally rush to the defense of almost any political figure on their team, even if the person isn’t terribly well liked or even if they’re getting grief for something that is pretty hard to defend. … In a highly partisan, polarized political world having a chorus of defenders, with a set list of arguments and slogans is critical to survival.
Through all of this though, almost no one is standing up for Jeb or putting together arguments, no matter how silly, in his defense. He’s out there swinging in the wind, totally alone. We know that Bush is not well loved by Movement Conservatives or Tea Partiers. So in one sense this isn’t terribly surprising. But somehow there’s more to it than that. His lack of any defenders is unique to him.
On the other hand, Jeb has raised a ton of cash from the “traditional Republican donor class.” So he’s likely to stay in the race until the end, win or lose.
[*] See Paul Waldman, The Myth of Faulty Intelligence