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Jeb Bush takes on Donald Trump, the ‘dead star’

Jeb Bush.AFP/Getty Images

In space, an unlucky planet that gets too close to a so-called dead star disintegrates; only debris remains in its trail.

In this year of presidential Star Wars, Jeb Bush has to hope the same thing happens in the political galaxy.

Bush still believes in the old world order, where the serious beats the ridiculous and policy wins over entertainment. With that orthodoxy in mind, he is finally taking on Donald Trump, the candidate who has been gobbling up the Republican planetary system like the "dead star" recently pinpointed by scientists.

Trump, said Bush during Tuesday night's debate, is "a chaos candidate" who would be "a chaos president." Eventually, a serious smackdown took place between the two, during which Bush declared, "You're never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency."


For Bush, the risk is that he may be the one to shoot down Trump's star — and then lose the galactic war to a non-Trump rival who is more in tune with the party's angry base. That alternative could be Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, who engaged in a serious debate battle of their own. However, their exchanges were rooted less in personal insult and more in policy discussion on issues such as immigration and metadata collection.

Or maybe the GOP’s default candidate will be Chris Christie, who has executive experience and his own version of Trump’s bellicosity — at the debate, he declared that he would happily shoot down a Russian plane if it violated a no-fly zone. (To that, Rand Paul retorted, “I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.”)

Whatever the risk, Bush is playing the only hand he has. In Las Vegas, I think he played it well. But Bush needs support from Republican primary voters, and, based on polls going into the debate, it's not there now. Yes, he launched his campaign a year ago on the theory that to win the 2016 general election, a Republican had to "lose the primary" — in other words, stick to centrist themes and refuse to bow to the conservative base.


But he has never been able to explain how that can happen in a practical sense. It's even harder now, with Trump in the way.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.