At a Jeb Bush staff meeting in the conference room of a Phoenix hotel in May, a text message popped into the phone of his senior adviser and longtime confidante Sally Bradshaw that sent aides scrambling for the television: “He said it.”
It had been four days since Bush and his team rehearsed how to extinguish the political firestorm he’d ignited by saying, astonishingly, that he would have agreed with then-President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 even if — and this was the killer — he’d known the intelligence was faulty.
Bush took days to spit out the prepared answer as he wrestled with himself over an issue that touched on two of the biggest stumbling blocks in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, ones that were obvious from the beginning: critiques of his family and the stagecraft of modern political campaigns.
When Bush finally reversed course on the Iraq question, on May 14, his aides alerted Bradshaw as Bush awkwardly installed a mea culpa at the end of his stump speech, struggling to speak in complete sentences as a confused crowd traded glances. “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions — knowing what we know now, what would you have done? — I would not have engaged, I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush said, before trailing off in an avalanche of qualifications.
The moment, in retrospect, crystallized how hard it would be for Bush to win. And on Saturday he ended his bid to become the Republican nominee, bringing to a close the modern era of GOP politics and — at least for a generation — ending the reign of a remarkable political dynasty.
One problem with Bush’s campaign, of course, is that the rules by which the dynasty had always operated did not apply in this season of the angry outsider. Bush’s record of accomplishment as Florida’s governor — not to mention his vast war chest — were relegated to mere footnotes as the race progressed. It was as though his very personality was reduced to two words by Donald Trump — “low energy” — and voters shook their heads, realized that Trump had put his finger on it, and agreed. Bush never recovered.
But to blame Trump is to forgive Bush. The other problem was Jeb himself.
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