Politicians are widely seen as legitimate-- even healthy-- targets of skepticism, derision and raucous humor. Rachel Maddow's opening piece on one of her MSNBC shows this week-- a look at Jeb Bush's tech campaign-- was nothing short of hilarious. I have two broken ribs and I was in pain from laughing so hard while I watched it. (If you didn't see it, it's embedded above and I recommend you give yourself a treat.) I'm sure it would be even funnier to have heard the dinner chit-chat at Chez Kravis if new-found Republican concern for economic inequality had come up at the $100,000/plate Bush campaign soirée.
But no one has brought forth a secretly taped conversation, at least not yet. Yesterday, however, Alex Isenstadt, writing for Politico, was pretty funny-- probably unintentionally-- in chronicling the war on Jeb Bush. "Rand Paul," he wrote, "is attacking him as a hypocrite on marijuana who’s indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton. Ted Cruz is questioning whether Bush’s stands on education and immigration will fly with primary voters. Conservative outside groups are going after him, with one airing a TV ad declaring, 'We do not want dynasties in our White House.' ... There are huge question marks surrounding Bush, from his controversial surname to positions on issues that may be deal-stoppers for conservative early-state voters. Yet big donors are lining up behind him, and top political staffers are signing up for campaign jobs. He’s become the man to beat practically out of the starting block-- an enviable position but one that’s put a bull’s-eye on his back... He wants to project an above-the-fray aura and avoid daily squabbles with opponents that make him look small, but now has to decide how or even whether to respond."
No one has been more aggressive in going after Bush than Paul. The day Bush announced he was pursuing a potential candidacy, the Kentucky senator began running digital ads on Google taking aim at him. After Bush came clean to using marijuana while at Phillips Academy, Paul suggested he was being phony, pointing out that he’d refused to support legalization of the drug. “Had he been caught at Andover, he’d have never been governor, he’d probably never have a chance to run for the presidency,” Paul said.
In late January, Paul pulled off an eyebrow-raising stunt, releasing a mock Bush-Clinton phone call tweaking them for being in political dynasties and imagining them trying to work out a 2016 pact.
Others eager to seize the conservative mantle are piling on. Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Cruz suggested Bush’s record was insufficiently conservative.
Money is one reason opposing camps are targeting. Bush, they acknowledge, has been gaining steam in the fundraising sweepstakes, a critical component in the early primary campaign. His strength, they say, has only increased in the weeks since Mitt Romney’s exit, which freed up a pot of establishment cash to flow his way.
“The attacks are in large part driven by a desire to stop any momentum and put a question in the minds of donors,” said one Paul ally.
Paul’s campaign also sees an opportunity to brand Bush as a moderate-- a theme it intends to hammer home in the months to come. For all Bush’s initial show of strength, Paul’s camp views him as seriously flawed and is eager to expose his liabilities.
“This primary is going to be a battle of ideas, and Gov. Bush is going to have a difficult time explaining why liberal solutions are palatable to a Republican Party hungry for something different,” said Jesse Benton, who managed Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign.
Others in the conservative world are joining in. On his show Monday, Rush Limbaugh, who’s turned Bush into a favorite punching bag, ranted about “how similar” the former governor and Clinton are. Also this week, a tea party group dubbed Constitutional Rights PAC unveiled a TV ad (below) casting Bush as a moderate who couldn’t be trusted.
The group’s chairman, Larry Ward, said the commercial would air on conservative outlets, including Fox News Channel-- and that more anti-Bush attacks were in the works. “We’re just going to keep pounding,” he said.
Another group, Conservative Action Fund, recently sent an email to supporters urging them to “Stop Jeb Bush NOW!” David Bossie, who heads up the prominent conservative organization Citizens United, has taken to national media outlets to hammer Bush.
...“Jeb’s an adult and he will behave like one,” said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist in Florida and longtime Bush friend. “It’d be absurd and against his nature for him to get into a playground fight.”
...Democrats are watching closely to see how Bush, who departed the governor’s mansion eight years ago, handles himself in the coming weeks. The offensive against him, they believe, amounts to a critical early test of his political skills.
“The big question is whether he can survive a nominating process with his fundamental positions on immigration reform and education intact,” said David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama. “If he does, he would be a formidable nominee.”
Jeb may well be the front-runner (in a weak field geared to appeal to the third of Americans who don't recognize Fox and Hate Talk Radio as worthless right-wing propaganda) but he doesn't have a visceral emotional connection to the populist party base and he's not really a good candidate when it comes to anything beyond having the calculated connections needed for raising gigantic amounts of campaign cash. Can he buy the base? He doesn't even like campaigning-- of course, neither does Hillary-- and people close to him say he's more introverted than any of his opponents. That doesn't mean he can't come out on top of his fractured and dysfunctional party's nominating process. It's early, but virtually all the recent Republican primary polls show him ahead-- and by a comfortable 7 point average. Unfortunately, those same polls all show Hillary Clinton beating him in a general election-- and by an even greater margin. And those polls were taken before Maddow's Jeb piece-- and the dozens and dozens just like it that will be coming out between now and the 2016 election.
|Acknowledgement: Jeb, like Chris Christie, has slimmed down for the 2016 presidential race|