For the past several weeks, the mainstream press has reveled in pummeling the soft underbelly of Jeb Bush’s non-campaign.
From a bad week on the trail when Jeb couldn’t provide a cogent response to the Iraq war question to a host of new occupants pushing their way into the Republican presidential clown car to an alleged “shake-up” on his staff that involved, let’s see, giving a guy from Iowa a different title in his nascent organization, the press has been relentless in painting Jeb as a hapless rube who is riding the bad side of the Darwinian curve.
And yet, despite the foreshadowing of his demise, Bush has been consistently, and sometimes even powerfully, moving the ball down the field. In the past two weeks, he has managed to pull off what no other Republican candidate has accomplished: a trip to Europe where he effortlessly projected the competence of a seasoned American statesman.
Bush received solid reviews for his deft handling of foreign policy and his ability to build diplomatic bonds. By contrast, when Chris Christie recently visited the United Kingdom — usually a layup for an American politician — he managed to turn it into a political disaster. Eventually, Christie even refused to take questions from the press. Scott Walker did little better while in Europe, comparing Wisconsin union protesters to ISIS and lamely concluding that he wouldn’t answer questions about foreign policy on foreign soil.
And then there was this week’s official announcement. Bush’s organization shrewdly packed a college gymnasium with thousands of rabid Jebophiles, many of whom were Latinos armed with Jeb-logoed thundersticks. (Contrast this to the 800 or so people that showed up for the Marco Rubio announcement.)
The excitement and enthusiasm were palpable, and what we saw was perhaps the first glimpse ever of how a dominant and resurgent Republican Party could look in the decade ahead. One sensed that if Jeb Bush is elected president that historians will look back on that frenzied rally as a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Grand Old Party, and at center stage was the man who dared to re-imagine the party in a new and compellingly inclusive way. Bush’s announcement was shockingly different than any other presidential announcement (almost ever), and Jeb looked perfectly comfortable in the frenetic and diverse environment.
And now, the announcement tour rolls on with Jeb popping up in the usual (Sean Hannity) and less expected (Jimmy Fallon) venues. He seems to be in full command of his capacities, taking all questions and fulfilling his promise to “joyfully” campaign. This week the “White Lebron” will swing through the early primary states, shaking thousands of hands and selling himself at the retail level.
It’s actually not Lebron whom Bush should be compared, but Tiger Woods. No, not the current Tiger Woods who recently missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National, but Tiger Woods circa 1999-2007 (which coincidentally overlaps with Bush’s time in office).
For much of Woods’ storied golfing career, one of the bets offered was him vs. The Field, meaning you could wager either on Tiger winning or all of the other golfers playing in a tournament. This almost seems preposterous until you realize that going into most events The Field was only a slight favorite (a dollar bet would only earn you fifty cents, while a dollar bet on Woods would earn you a buck twenty).
Of course, the smart money would week in and week out bet on the field, but it would not feel good about doing so because there was so much potential on the other side of the proposition.
The same can be said about the race for the GOP presidential nomination. With Rubio, Walker, John Kasich, and so many other talented golfers, err, candidates in the field, the smart money would probably take The Field versus Bush. Maybe.
PredictIt, an online political stock market that uses the marketplace to forecast events, currently has a share of stock in Bush winning the GOP nomination at forty-two cents (were Bush to actually win, that share would pay out at a dollar.) That feels about right. It’s still safer to take the rest of The Field, but not by much.
That’s how it was each weekend Tiger Woods played in a golf tournament. And that’s how the presidential race is shaping up in the early stages.
Meanwhile, Jeb is fully on the comeback trail, although pitfalls may lie ahead. For starters, the pundit-fueled descriptions of his earlier missteps were overblown. There’s not really a systemic failure from which he needs to come back. But, the data points over the last few weeks point in a strongly positive direction.
What we are seeing is Jeb unchained, a more seasoned and liberated version of the guy we remember as our very successful governor, now free to act like a real candidate and clearly comfortable in his own skin. This is the Jeb who, if he continues to take risks and amass a mountain of campaign contributions, can become our next president.