When your last name is Bush and Karl Rove says you’ve had a bad week, you’ve really had a bad week, the way Lehman Brothers — the investment firm whose bankruptcy helped signal the beginning of the financial crisis — had a bad 2008.
The best news Jeb Bush has gotten recently is that he’s no longer the weakest GOP frontrunner in generations. He’s not even the frontrunner anymore. A recent national PPP poll of the 2016 GOP candidates found that he still leads among Republicans who think President Obama isn’t invading Texas, which is enough to put him in fifth place overall.
Bush’s recent problems all come from the same place — his mouth.
S.V. Dáte, who covered Florida politics during Bush’s governorship, wrote that Jeb is used to being “the smartest guy in the room,” who distrusts the press and sees them as an obstacle. That makes him a pretty typical politician, but the exact opposite of his brother, who saw journalists as pawns who could be charmed into furthering his agenda—and turned out to be right.
But as the third member of a political dynasty to seek the presidency as the nation is still suffering from his brother’s many terrible decisions, Jeb’s situation is not typical in any other way. That’s why what he says matters so much. Here are five horrible flubs that reveal why Jeb Bush could be the GOP’s worst possible candidate in 2016—and will probably win the nomination anyway.
1. George W. Bush is his close advisor.
This is the one that actually started Jeb’s downward spiral, and revealed his willingness to bend with the wind and then overcorrect as his greatest weakness.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson — the man who kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primary for far too long advancing the Bain attacks that became the backbone of Democrats’ critique of Romney — didn’t like that Bush family consigliere James Baker spoke to the progressive Israel lobby known as J Street, and didn’t have bad things to say about the proposed nuclear accord with Iran.
Jeb decided that he’d better fire up his secret weapon early. Asked by a group of donors in New York whose counsel he seeks on Israel, he said, “If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s [George W. Bush].”
This didn’t just show he was out of touch with current GOP/Israel relations, which has seen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invested with a doctrine of infallibility that didn’t exist during W.’s administration. It suddenly opened up a new range of opportunities for reporters to ask about other W. policies.
2. He would have invaded Iraq.
Strangely, when Jeb Bush said he wouldn’t be afraid to launch a “Third Bush War” in Iraq, it didn’t make big news. But that was when he was in his “I’m my own Bush” period. Flailing with a super donor and with a GOP base that prefers real W. to diet Jeb, the candidate decided he should fully embrace his brother’s legacy and say that he would invade Iraq again, knowing what we know now.
“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” he said.
This argument ends up meaning the same thing as saying — as Jeb eventually did — that knowing what we know now, he wouldn’t have invaded. He — and all the other Republican candidates except Rand Paul — pretend that the decision was made in good faith based on bad intelligence, which is the opposite of the truth.
This continuing fallacy is necessary as conservatives pursue an even greater disaster in Iran. We can hope that Democrats (including Hillary Clinton) who voted for the war and have made similar arguments will use this as an opportunity to attack a continuing Republican posture of aggressive war.
But the idea that we’d get another Bush, who learned nothing from the war, created such an uproar that a Bush advisor volunteered that Bush had misheard the question. More likely, he “misunderestimated” the fallout.