Writing with uncharacteristic acidity in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan offered up an explanation as to why Jeb Bush has thus far failed to deliver on his promise. “Reporters,” Noonan proposed, have tended to assume without cynicism that Bush must be a “national candidate” because he is part of a “national family.” The last few weeks have served to disabuse us of that notion.
We have learned, Noonan records, that Jeb is “only a governor” — no more guaranteed success or assured of greatness than any aspirant with a less recognizable surname. Certainly, his pedigree has ensured that the supply side of his campaign would be taken care of: For almost half a century now, America has been furnished with an ample supply of ambitious, well-funded Bushes. On the demand side, however, things have been far less rosy. If, as I consider likely, Bush eventually recognizes that his overtures have been met with jaded indifference, he will have struck an inadvertent blow for meritocracy and demonstrated an age-old truth, to boot: However much polish and gold the masters of the universe can dispense, there is no easy way to sell a superfluous product. Surveying the present scene, critics of both the “establishment” and that protean supervillain “money” should be breathing a touch more easily.
Is he, in fact, all — or any — of these things? Is there any reason to believe this hype? That, I’d venture, will depend heavily upon how Bush chooses to conduct himself going forward. And at this stage the warning signs are flashing scarlet.
However much polish and gold the masters of the universe can dispense, there is no easy way sell a superfluous product.
Put plainly, Jeb now has a choice, the resolution of which will determine the manner in which he is perceived among his friends for the rest of his political life: He can fight gracefully, live up to his hopeful rhetoric, and accept with alacrity what fate has in store; or he can throw a fit of entitlement and betray himself as the worst of sore losers. There is plenty of evidence, alas, that he is being tempted toward the latter, uglier course.
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During last week’s CNBC primary debate, Bush repeatedly dinged rival Marco Rubio for missing a number of recent Senate votes, thereby ensuring that a petty and disingenuous critique that is equally applicable to every presidency-seeking legislator will henceforth be sold with the affixture “even Jeb Bush says . . . ” Meanwhile, behind the curtains, his team was busy unleashing a nasty whisper campaign against the same target, the basic gist of which is that Rubio is in possession of a “concerning” background that makes him a “risky bet.”
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.