Nobody sneers quite like Donald Trump.
His fleshy face grows taut. His upper lip bends down sharply at the corners. His eyes descend even deeper into his skull.
Jeb Bush saw that sneer at the fifth and final Republican debate of the year Tuesday night.
Trump would be well-advised to ignore Bush. No matter what Bush says about Trump, it is like a mosquito biting a rhinoceros.
But mosquitoes can be irritating. And Trump can do dumb things. So when Bush found one of Trump’s weak spots, Trump sneered his best sneer in response.
“Donald,” Bush said, “you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen.”
Trump would have been better off smirking — another facial expression he does quite well — but instead, he snapped.
“With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again. That I can tell you,” Trump said.
OK, so Bush left a little bump on Trump’s skin. And when I called Trump a rhinoceros a few moments ago, I was wrong in one respect: Rhinoceroses have very thick skins.
And Trump’s skin is as thin as a daffodil’s.
Trump couldn’t seem to get over that moment or get back on his game plan of merely acting superior to everyone else onstage.
Trump called a halt to the entire debate, in fact, by complaining that CNN was being unfair to him by inviting the other candidates, especially Bush, to attack him.
“I think it’s very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush, Gov. Bush, down a road by starting off virtually all of the questions, ‘Mr. Trump this.’ I think it’s very sad,” Trump said semi-coherently.
Bush, who often seems to sleepwalk through these debates, perked up at hearing his name mentioned and stumbled upon the perfect response.
He sneered at Trump. And nobody — but nobody — sneers at The Donald.
“This is a tough business to run for president,” Bush said to Trump with disdain.
And if you think Trump can give out disdain but not take it, you would be right.
“You’re a tough guy, Jeb. I know,” Trump sneered. “You’re tough.”
“You’re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency,” Bush said, refashioning the line he obviously had been rehearsing for weeks.
“Well, let’s see,” Trump said, his temperature rising. “I’m at 42 (percent in the polls), and you’re at 3. So, so far, I’m doing better.”
And with that, Trump washed his hands of Bush.
But Bush, who probably had come up against a schoolyard bully or two in his life, stood his ground. And sneered again.
“Doesn’t matter,” Bush said.
I was waiting for him to say, “Bounces off rubber, sticks to glue.” But Bush missed that one.
Which gave Trump the opportunity to win the sneerfest. “So far, I’m doing better,” Trump said and indicated that he stood in the center of the debate stage. “You know, you started off over here, Jeb.”
And believe it or not, Jeb was once a front-runner. In late June, Bush led the GOP pack with 22 percent of the vote in an NBC poll. Scott Walker was in second, with 17 percent, and Trump was in 11th place, with 1 percent.
But in the Republican Party, shoo-ins can become has-beens pretty quickly.
Walker dropped out of the race in late September, and today Bush has just 4 percent of the vote, compared with Trump’s first-place 33 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics poll average.
“You’re moving over further and further,” Trump mocked. “Pretty soon, you’re going to be off the end” of the stage.
Which may be true, or maybe Bush picked up a few points by taking on Trump. Whatever the result, the back-and-forth between Bush and Trump was taking the spotlight away from the other candidates, which upset them very much.
“All the fighting and arguing is not advancing us,” John Kasich, playing Mr. Goody-Goody, complained.
“It will not solve the problem,” Carly Fiorina, playing Ms. Goody-Goody, complained.
“It is not the way we’re going to strengthen our country,” Kasich said. “We will strengthen our country when we come together.”
The audience members applauded. But you could tell they really preferred a slugfest to a lovefest any day.
The debate ground on as the candidates discussed foreign affairs, the Islamic State group and terrorism.
“We have people across this country who are scared to death,” Chris Christie said.
Which is true — especially among those who are afraid one of these candidates actually could become president.
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM
Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates businessman Donald Trump (L) and former Governor Jeb Bush (R) are seen debating on video monitors in the debate press room during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker