Jeb Bush's Lukewarm Debate Performance Didn't Do Much To Help His Struggling Campaign
All eyes were on Jeb Bush in the fourth Republican debate. After spending months failing to win over voters on the campaign trail, Bush seriously damaged himself at the third debate when he badly fumbled an attack on Marco Rubio. Many suspected that this was the end of Bush's quest for the White House, but Jeb! decided to keep on trucking and announced a reboot of his campaign. That primarily consisted of rolling out a new slogan, "Jeb Can Fix It," and now, we can also count Bush's performance at this most recent debate as part of the retooling. So, how'd he do?
Well, he didn't embarrass himself or make any catastrophic mistakes. Unfortunately, that's the most that can be said of his performance Tuesday. Sure, Bush came across as capable and well-spoken, but he needed to do a lot more than that to reinvigorate his fledgling campaign. He had no standout moments and delivered no standout monologues. He did speak eloquently on immigration — but as Matthew Yglesias at Vox points out, Bush "looks strongest and most confident when discussing issues on which he's out of step with his party's base." All in all, his best comment of the night probably came when he compared Donald Trump's foreign policy views to "playing Monopoly."
But even that was off-base. Bush should have used Risk as his point of reference.
To be fair, Bush had to walk a very difficult line. Normally, when a candidate enters a debate with their campaign already in a tailspin, they'll try to score a big hit on one of their opponents in an attempt to give their candidacy an immediate, if temporary, boost. But going on the offensive in a debate is exactly how Bush's campaign entered a tailspin to begin with; swinging and whiffing again would have been catastrophic. However, simply cruising through the debate and playing it safe wasn't a much better option, as that would do little to reassure Bush's skittish donors that he has the ability to inspire Republican voters.
What Bush really needed was a moment of his own, one that didn't involve attacking the other Republicans, but it's difficult to imagine what such a moment might have looked like. And therein lies the problem with Bush as a candidate: At the end of the day, he simply does not inspire and excite voters. His primary asset is his ability to raise boatloads of money, but as this campaign has proven, money can't buy charisma. An anonymous supporter of Bush put it well in October when they told Politico, "It's like the more Jeb is out there, the less well he does."
After his terrible performance at the third debate, I proclaimed Bush's campaign dead in the water. Tuesday could have rejuvenated his candidacy, but it didn't. He didn't hurt himself either, so in the end, it was a wash. Bush is right where he was before the debate — in deep, deep trouble.