Usborne in the USA: Jeb Bush’s Oval Office bid isn’t going well – and he hasn’t even declared yet

Memo to Jeb Bush: things just aren’t going the way they should be and you’d better have a good day in Miami next week

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The Independent Online

Governor, it’s not too late. A lot of folk have already parted with a lot of cash betting you can reclaim that Oval Office desk that was once your dad’s and your brother’s. Right now balloons and bunting are being set in place for your big declaration in Miami next Monday. But are you sure about this?

Since revealing your interest in running last December, you’ve made some smart moves. You’ve delayed declaring properly for as long as is decent to avoid the fund-raising limitations that kick in the moment you do. On your current swing through Germany, Poland and Estonia you’ve wisely sidestepped London and the curse it casts on all Republicans. Likely rivals Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker all made twerps of themselves there this year. As for Mitt Romney’s London trip in 2012: catastrophe!

Memo to Jeb Bush: things just aren’t going the way they should be and you’d better have a good day in Miami next week.

This could be a matter of inflated expectations. For a while there, Bush, Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, was the assumed front-runner even as the Republican field got bigger and bigger. The establishment darling, he was also the candidate no one else could keep up with in the fund-raising stakes. But as the late, great Ann Richards, the former Governor of Texas, might have said, the shine has started to dull on the silver spoon.

Impressions shifted last month when, as he made a few first campaign appearances (he was otherwise occupied almost entirely with that money-raising business) he stumbled repeatedly on the question of whether or not he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he’d had the correct intelligence at hand. Many in the party were perplexed as to why he wasn’t better prepared for a question that was bound to come.

He has a serviceable message for his European hosts – that he’d be tougher with Vladimir Putin than Obama. But reporters travelling with him only want to know about supposed turmoil in his nascent campaign team – the man expected to be his campaign chief, David Kochel, is out, replaced by a younger, apparently tougher guy in Danny Diaz.

 

Bush put that change down to “nothing other than the magnitude of the journey”, although he did call Diaz “a grinder”. Kochel has become chief strategist, “which is where his skill sets are”, Bush said. 

Here in the US the talk is about his apparent iffy polling numbers. Nationally he is tied in the lead with Governor Walker and Senator Marco Rubio, but he is drooping in key early primary states.

Meanwhile a flap emerged this week about words he wrote about single mums in a book 20 years ago. Called Profiles in Character it had a whole chapter called “Restoration of Shame” that included this passage: “One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behaviour, no reason to feel shame.” Bring back stigma for unmarried mothers.

This will blow over. But the other stuff might not. “Everyone can see that Jeb Bush is doing poorly so far,” Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, said in an article for Politico this week. “He’s in a much worse position than his father was in 1987 or his brother was in 1999. This Bush intimidates no one. His political skills are rusty, he’s a pedestrian speaker.” True, he carried on to say that in the end there are only three Republicans we should be taking seriously for 2016 and Bush certainly remains one of them, the others being Rubio and Walker.

John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio who may also join the race, is equally blunt. “I thought that Jeb was going to suck all the air out of the room,” he said recently, “and it just hasn’t happened.” The Washington Post reported that even his fund-raising efforts are seemingly falling short of what was expected. Bush responded to some of this unhelpful noise on the steps of his hotel in Berlin. It’s questionable whether he will have set to rest the minds of all those who have already given thousands to him and to his political action committee, Right to Rise. “If I’m a candidate, there’s no fifth-place, you know, kind of mentality in my mind,” he attempted.

“I don’t read the polls. Polls are, you know ... it’s fun to see them when you’re winning. Not so fun when you’re not. It doesn’t really matter, though. It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.” Then he went on to assert that he was “pretty confident that we’re in a good position, for sure”. Jeb doesn’t mangle language the way George W did – who also, by the way, also used to say exactly the same thing about ignoring polls – but he can indeed seem pedestrian. We will see on 15 June whether, when all of the national media will be watching, he can summon electrifying.

Up until last December, the message from the Bush camp was that Jeb was minded not to run for President, in part because he didn’t want to put his wife, Columba, who is Mexican, and the rest of his family through the turmoil. Then he changed his mind. But it should be clear to him by now that this journey will be every bit as rough as the ones he loves feared.

Pulling a sickie is still an option.

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