Jason Stanford, 9/3/2015 [Archive]

The Incredible Shrinking Jeb

By Jason Stanford

At least he lost all that weight. If nothing else comes of Jeb Bush's once-golden presidential campaign that looked assured of getting the Republican nomination, then at least he can look into the mirror and see less of himself. The problem is that the ascendancy of Donald Trump has eclipsed Bush, leaving him looking anything but like the frontrunner he once was.

Early on, the primaries were shaping up to be more a coronation than a nomination. Jeb proclaimed he would run "joyfully." He insisted he wouldn't pander to the base and all but picked fights with conservatives on immigration and Common Core. Donors lined up under his big tent. He stole Romney's top operatives and fundraisers, scaring Mitt Romney out of the race.

Sure, there was that last name to deal with. His brother had made a hash of the world during his two terms in the White House. Even his mother suggested that Americans were sick of the Bushes in the White House. So Jeb dropped his last name and went around calling himself Jeb! Jeb was the smart one, after all.

Except he never came across as smart, just grouchy. The week he struggled to drag a coherent answer out of his mouth on whether we should have invaded Iraq was telling. At one point his answer was that there shouldn't be a question. He seemed to be claiming a familial privilege. Everyone else could answer questions about his President Dad or President Brother, but he was running his own campaign, so thank you, but no.

The day he announced was a good one. He was in first place, the presumptive frontrunner. There haven't been many days like that since. It turns out his message to Republican voters was "line up behind me, I'm going to win." Now that he doesn't look like the winner, he's having trouble coming up with a new pitch.

The best he can do lately is to run as the anti-Trump, which probably appeals more to Bush's ego and intellect than to the voters. The only thing slowing Trump's rise in the polls is the emergence of Dr. Ben Carson as a serious player in the primary. Bush is falling back. The Des Moines Register poll—the gold standard of Iowa polling—had Jeb tied with Sen. Marco Rubio in fifth place with six percent. You, reading this, were closer to tying Jeb in Iowa than he was to catching Trump.

Jeb insists he's a having the time of his life. Recently he called himself a "joyful turtle," which is not the animal a joyful man would pick to describe himself. The hare (make your own Trump joke here) had a lot more fun before, admittedly, losing. That's Jeb now, the plodding bore, snapping at Trump as well as reporters who ask him about Trump.

"I don't think I mentioned his name. Did I mention his name?" Jeb spat at a reporter who asked him a question about Trump, as if that exempted him from talking about his party's frontrunner.

He doesn't sound joyful, but it's hard to be happy when you're locked in a shouting match with someone born to the role. Ever the A student, Bush will roll out a tax plan this weekend, keeping "faith over time in the people and the power of his ideas," an aide said.

All is not lost, maybe. The overseas betting line on the U.S. elections has Bush as the Republican favorite, as does PredictIt, the prediction market dominated by D.C. insiders. But shares of Bush winning the nomination are trading only at 38 cents, way down from a summer high of 52 cents in mid-July. According to the insiders who put real money behind these predictions, it's a coin flip whether Bush is polling in double digits by the end of the month.

That this is even a question at this point is shocking. We looked at Jeb and thought we saw another Bush, a confident winner, not a petulant whiner. He is less than he at first appeared to be, and he may be fading into our rearview mirror faster than we could have imagined.

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©Copyright 2015 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at stanford@oppresearch.com and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.

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