We’re nearing the end of Jeb Bush’s putrefying presidential ambitions.
Oh, the former Florida governor will hang around because it would simply be too embarrassing to drop out of the race months before the first primary. That sort of demoralizing early surrender is fine for the likes of Rick Perry and Scott Walker, but not for someone who was the presumptive Republican nominee from the get-go. He’ll tread water long enough for more debates, aware that leaving is tantamount to abandoning his party to the anarchists.
For months, Bush has been waiting for Donald Trump to set himself on fire, but Bush and his advisers are as bad at deciphering the break-stuff mindset swamping the GOP as they are at running his campaign. Those who’ve pushed Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls support them precisely because they spew incendiary rubbish, not in spite of it. Anyone backing either of those men isn’t just immune to the offensive things they say — they’re in wholehearted lockstep with them. They love every drop of that strange, bitter tea.
Meanwhile, Bush, polling in single digits, will continue to make feckless campaign appearances. He’ll release more commercials that do nothing to bolster him as a viable candidate, let alone the only man capable of leading the GOP back to the White House. He should have been a contender, the latest heir of an American political dynasty. Now his fast-fading campaign is so close to death, it might as well have a toe-tag.
He’s cut staff salaries, and lately has been conferring with Poppy and Dubya to save his listing bid for the nomination. And he’s sounding more like a fellow who knows he’s reached the top of his bounce. At a recent South Carolina campaign stop, a perturbed Bush said, “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. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
These are not the inspiring words of a man aching to be our chief executive. Then again, maybe that’s been Bush’s problem all along. When your own mother says out loud, “We’ve had enough Bushes,” as Barbara Bush did when asked in 2013 if her second son should make a run for the White House, you’re likely doomed. It’s like the old B.B. King line: “Nobody loves me but my mother – and she could be jivin’ too.”
What’s always seemed apparent is that poor Jeb – the Buster Bluth of the Bushes – never seemed to have his heart and soul in this. Too often he resembles a trapped man looking for the nearest exit. Think of his inert appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in September. As Colbert joked about Bush’s exclamation point “Jeb!” campaign logo, the best Bush could muster was, “It connotes excitement.” As the audience laughed and Colbert guffawed, Bush looked less convinced than anyone of his ability to connote anything close to excitement.
Politics is the Bushes’ business. George H.W. and George W. have both done well in becoming president, not so much in being president. Jeb has done so poorly with the former that he’ll have no opportunity to follow the family tradition of screwing up the latter. In this merciless election cycle, Bush will not realize the dynastic delusions that seemed most dear to his father and brother, but not to the candidate who has borne their expectations like a millstone. When the long goodbye of this ill-fated campaign is finally and officially done, no one may be more relieved than Bush himself.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.