Debates

The Jeb Bush Doomsayers Become Jeb Bush Doomshouters

It's hard to determine a winner in last night's awkward debate, but there was one clear loser.

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You probably should never use "Don't vote for me if …" to start a sentence when you want people to vote for you.
CNBC

The two biggest narratives emerging from the debate last night are both fairly obvious to anybody who actually watched it: The moderation of the debate itself was a disaster (this is true even if we consider that candidates should be savvy and prepared enough to deal with the types of questions CNBC threw their way); and, holy crap, is Jeb Bush toast.

As for the first narrative, I'd say that causing all these candidates to temporarily unify and go after the moderators instead of each other is quite an accomplishment. They can work together! My perception of the unfolding disaster and my own frustration was not necessarily that the moderators were aggressive, or biased, or even openly hostile. There were some really good efforts to drill down into the meat of candidate proposals and force them to acknowedge flaws. The problem was that moderators wanted to touch on too many different things when there were still too many candidates in the field. This meant they attempted to confine important policy-related questions to just a couple of the candidates in order to control for time, and the candidates rebelled because they wanted to weigh in as well with their own policy solutions. And they had to, because there were quite a few stupid questions. So if you were a candidate up on stage, you realized you had to worry that two other candidates would be asked about tax reform or college debt (for example) but not you, even though you may have put out your own policy papers. Because the debate started so terribly ("Name your biggest weakness"), these guys had to worry that they'd miss out on issues their campaign feels are important in favor of being asked something dumb.

It ended up being a bit of a strange, accidental argument in favor of letting candidates stick to their talking points, because the prepared crap actually seemed more substantive than whatever it was CNBC was trying to accomplish here. (Nick Gillespie disagrees with me a bit here; read his take from last night.) I tweeted in all caps in frustration last night when the moderators tried to confine the college debt question to just John Kasich, when it's clearly going to be a big issue in the general election, and all of the Republicans need to articulate their plans. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are making a big deal of their own proposals.

Because of what ultimately became a battle between the candidates and the moderators over who had control of the conversation and what issues were to be discussed, it's tempting to call the whole thing a wash. It's a challenge to call a clear "winner," though it does seem that Sen. Marco Rubio may get the title on points. Part of the reason for his victory is because the debate did very clearly have a loser. That would be Bush, and Rubio is partly why.

Last night I blogged how Chris Christie got the best of Bush in what should have been an easy question about federal fantasy sports regulation (though clearly the moderators were the actual target of Christie's anger). But Rubio also got the best of Bush in an exchange about the fact that Rubio is missing votes in the Senate in order to run his campaign. This was the only real "rivalry" between candidates to show up last night, as the anger toward the moderators stole the show.

Rubio was asked by moderators whether he should "finish what he started" as a senator rather than missing votes to run for office. He was also referred to as a young man, even though he's the same age as Sen. Ted Cruz, who also, incidentally, is missing lots of votes. And that was essentially how Rubio responded, pointing out that every candidate who has run while a seated senator, on both the left and the right, ends up missing votes. Yet, he's the one getting called out on it.

That's when Bush thought this would be his time to shine:

Could I — could I bring something up here, because I'm a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. He got endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel because he was the most talented guy in the field. He's a gifted politician.

But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work. I mean, literally, the Senate — what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well, they're looking for a senator that will fight for them each and every day.

Rubio responded in what would certainly be a highlight reel moment:

Well, it's interesting. Over the last few weeks, I've listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you're modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you're going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling after?

No Jeb, I don't remember — well, let me tell you. I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

Ouch. It did not. What was missing from this exchange and this line of attack on Rubio is any evidence that Rubio's missed votes led to any sort of bad consequences for his constituents. Did bad legislation pass because he wasn't there? Did good legislation die? Obviously not, or certainly Bush would have been more specific.

It was a stupid line of attack from Bush and between that and the Christie exchange, as well as a kind of lackluster performance overall, has folks declaring his campaign over. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post muses:

The question for Bush now is whether he really wants this — and, if so, how badly. His comments from over the weekend in South Carolina seem to reveal where his mind is. "I've got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them," Bush said. "That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that."

It's hard to imagine Bush's outlook is any better after what happened to him Wednesday night. And, the coming days are likely to make things worse. Bush will be dogged by questions about his poor performance and news stories about donors either carping or bolting to Rubio — or both.

If Bush wasn't having much fun before, he really won't be having any fun now. And for a candidate who pledged that he would run "joyfully," he looks anything but that right now.

NEXT: China Drops Oppressive One-Child Policy: Too Late to Avoid Demographic Implosion

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  1. Doomsayers, doomshouters… What about the Doomcockers?

    1. The Doomcock waits.

      1. “In his house at Cleveland, dead Doomcock waits dreaming.”

    2. Hey, that’s my Burning Man camp.

      I’ve considered inviting Doherty, but I’m not sure he measures up.

      1. I’m not sure he measures up.

        Phrasing!

        1. Are we still doing that?

          1. Making inappropriate double entendres?

            You bet we are.

    3. Doomcock to Jeb Bush: “Remember when I said I’d rape you last? I lied!”

    4. Jeb — Your lying father (Read my lips, no new taxes) and your incompetent brother (Taking us into a needless war in Iraq and getting 4500 of our military killed there and another 30,000+ injured) as well as your incompetent self (Your inability to speak intelligently about ANYTHING) has doomed your candidacy.

      Do the right thing and go and do all of that “cool stuff” you said you could be doing. You’re done, dude.

  2. It certainly doesn’t help that he dressed like a dead person

  3. My wife watched the debates. I watched Agents of Shield. The plotlines are equally stupid, so I figure I might as well watch something that won’t piss me off before I go to bed.

    1. Is that still on? I’ve watched most of the first season on Netflix. Formulaic and dumb. Just how I like it.

      1. It’s into season 3 now. The Flash is equally entertaining. Arrow has too much of the OWS feel for my tastes.

        1. I also started watching Gotham. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to pick Marvel or D.C. Whatevs.

          1. Gotham seems completely lost on the plotline. Like they’re making it up each week.

            1. I’ve only watched the first few on Netflix. That guy who will become the Penguin is a sick mofo. I like him.

          2. You both have the viewing habits of teenaged girls. At least you’ll have something to talk about when you try picking them up after school.

            1. My fake ID says I’m 25. I use it to pick up chicks.

              1. You and Lee should get together for a marathon of The Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades of Grey.

                1. My wife likes those. I tried to watch them with her and couldn’t do it. Some chick-flicks I can handle, but not those.

                  1. You could watch Peaky Blinders with your wife. Hot men and violence; it’s the complete package.

                    1. She’s into stuff that’s set in Victorian England. I can handle most of that. At least most of those tend to be well-written. But that other stuff is crap.

                    2. There’s always Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

                    3. She likes zombies. I bet if that really existed she’d want to watch it.

                    4. Oh man. I’m sending her a text right now. That looks great!

                    5. Peaky is set in Victorian England but in lower-class Victorian England. Still nice costumes and wonderful visuals of the period.

                    6. My wife is into “Reign” where the royal women-folk of France solve all the world’s problems by having serious pajama parties while their husbands/lovers ineptly meander in the world of politics and religion.

                    7. I tried to get her to watch eXistenz on Netflix, but Cronenberg is not her style.

                2. I’m more a Strain kind of guy. Sparkly vamps just don’t cut it for me.

                  1. The Strain is one of my favorite hate-watch shows. It’s even more fun to hate-watch than BTVS, as horrible as Whedon’s predictable, dull sense of “humor” is.

                    I liked the part last season where Eph, needing the best sniper rifle available in New York, used the considerable resources of his very wealthy friends to buy what looked like a WWI-era, bolt-action remainder with a $15 scope he probably took off his obnoxious kid’s Daisy rifle. And then proceeded to miss multiple stationary targets with said rifle despite demonstrating an ability to headshot moving vampires from 40 yards with whatever piece of crap pistol he happens to have on hand.

                    1. Th Strain is incredibly ridiculous, which is part of its charm.

                      I always feel guilty after watching it and swear I won’t watch it again. Never happens.

            2. Is that how you became a Mrs?

              1. Pretty much.

    2. Supergirl.

      Network tv feels like jv entertainment now that basic and pay cable are putting out good-to-awesome fare, but holy dern is Benoist cute as Kara.

      1. I consider all of the police procedurals to be unholy abominations. At least with the superhero junk, the pretense of political commentary goes mostly out the window.

        And watching something that involves rutting lawyers or doctors? *barf*

        1. And watching something that involves rutting lawyers or doctors? *barf*

          Having grown up in a medical family, and worked as a lawyer – I join you in your vomiting. *hurls*

  4. Oh, I think there was more than one clear loser on that stage last night.

    1. Roughly 318.9 million clear losers, at least.

    2. If you ask the media the biggest loser was DEFINITELY NOT THE MEDIA, NOPE NOSIRREE BOB.

      No, the biggest loser was Jeb. He’s definitely a loser but not the biggest one last night.

  5. The questions were oddly disconnected, I thought. And the moderators, particularly John Harwood, were borderline incompetent, but I actually though it was the best of the debates so far. I only watched the first 90 minutes, but during that period all the candidate revealed themselves and were able to answer some policy questions. Rand was strong on Social Security and Medicare. Fiorina was strong when talking about crony capitalism in general.

  6. Because the debate started so terribly (“Name your biggest weakness”)

    I care about the American people so much that I neglect my own family, and I have trouble finding boxer shorts to accommodate my giant, courageous balls and war boner!

    And Bush is an incredibly awkward candidate. Gore was a horrible, leaden shitshow, and same for Hillary, but Bush almost seems as if he doesn’t want to be up there, but is running out of duty. Maybe he’s got some anxiety on the big stage, hard to say.

    Anyway, soon we won’t have poor ole Jeb to kick around, so get ready for the Cruz/Rubio period of Silly Season.

  7. Something seems off with Bush. Holding stance on issues aside, his performance as a candidate is woeful, and I doubt that was the case in Florida, or he would not have won. And o have seen him speak before on issues, and he never seemed this wishy washy.

    I just don’t think his heart was ever in this. If you think about it, his trajectory was similar to Biden. Both couldn’t decide if they wanted to get in. One realized there was no path, particularly if he wasn’t committed. The other listened to his posse.

    It seems Biden was the one who made the right decision.

  8. I think Bush’s worst moment was when he answered that questions about fantasy football by suggesting that maybe we SHOULD regulate fantasy football, and then Christie was that one who interrupted to complain what a stupid question it was.

    I didn’t actually watch the debate but that is what it appears happens from the news reports and perception is reality in politics. It not only makes Bush look like some establishment patsy for advocating regulation of fantasy football, but he looks like a weakling in front of the hated liberal media. Basically the moderators boxed him into advocating a position that’s the polar opposite of what Republican voters would want. Which is exactly the sort of thing that Republican voters are furious about.

  9. So, who will be the final four? It’s time for the also-rans to start dropping out and endorsing someone else if they want to cozy up and be considered as that someone else’s v.p. choice.

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