The G-File

Jeb’s Sad Performance at the Debate Confirms He’s Not the Right Choice for 2016

Bush in Boulder, October 28, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including those of you Donald Trump didn’t call “truly odious”),

True story. When I took the SAT (which once was an acronym for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” then “Scholastic Assessment Test,” but is now simply called the SAT because the gormless quislings of the higher-education establishment are too scared even to defend the idea their test actually measures anything. But that’s a topic for another day) . . .

#ad#. . . Where was I? Oh right. True story: When I took the SAT (at Martin Luther King Jr. high school on West 65th street), right before the administrator guy said, “Open your books,” a kid raced into the room and took the chair right in front of me. He was a species of Manhattanite I knew very well: The urban hippie, a close relative of the more dignified bohemian, but a distinct breed. This guy was a cross between Jeff Spiccoli, Shaggy, and maybe a young Lincoln Chafee.

Anyway, the instructor told us all to open our booklets and get started. Almost immediately, the kid started shifting in his seat like maybe he was sitting awkwardly on his roach clip. By the middle of the test’s first section, the urban hippie started muttering in an exasperated whisper: “Oh man.”

With every turn of the page, he’d suck in a lungful of air through clenched teeth and run his fingers through his greasy pre-white-guy-dreadlocks hair, while kicking out his feet in shock. “Aw man, aw man, aw man.” His anguish was matched only by his surprise at how much worse each new page could be the than the one that preceded it.

I thought the whole thing was hilarious, and ended up giggling through most of the test, which probably seemed prickish to kids who thought I was gloating.

I bring this up partly because I had no idea how to begin this “news”letter this morning and partly because I imagined something similar was going on at Bush campaign HQ during the CNBC debate.

The Jeb Test

Full disclosure: I don’t hate Jeb Bush, nor do I scorn him. I respect the guy. I don’t like the way people trash him and act as if no serious conservative could possibly support him. But, as I’ve been saying for a longtime now, I don’t think he’s the right candidate for 2016. While not my first choice by any measure, I think he could be a fine president, and it would be a no-brainer to vote for him over Hillary Clinton. That said, I’ve always thought he’d be a deeply, deeply, flawed nominee. As I’ve written before, in a contest of familiar brands, the more popular one does better — and the Clinton brand is more popular than the Bush brand. In a change election, when the other side has an old and tired brand, the last thing in the world you should do is respond with an older and even more tired brand.

Bush v. Rubio

Of course, politics is about more than branding. It’s also about selling, and Jeb just isn’t a great salesman. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have confidence in the product, which is dismaying given that he is the product.

Let’s revisit the moment when Bush came at Rubio like a census taker going after Hannibal Lecter, over the issue of Rubio’s missed votes.

It was such a sad scene. Jeb was like a gladiator sent into the arena with a Nerf bat and a slingshot full of ping-pong balls.

RELATED: Jeb Swings at Rubio, Misses, and Finds Himself on the Ropes

The thing about being armed with a Nerf bat in a gladiator fight is that it really doesn’t matter if you land the blow. It’s like delivering the cleverest bon mot in the prison yard; it only invites an even more painful response. “That’s exactly what I’d expect from you Bonecrusher, after all you still wear white after Labor Day. [Snicker]. . . Bonecrusher, what are you doing? Put down that cinderblock.”

What made it all so much worse is that it was essentially choreographed. Jeb knows this is a dumb issue and that Rubio would be prepared like a Shaolin monk to respond to it. And if he didn’t know that, he learned it on the debate stage, because Carl Quintanilla had just grabbed the nerf bat and used it himself against Rubio.

RELATED: The Third GOP Presidential Debate: Spin vs. Reality

Rubio swatted away Quintanilla like Pai Mei would Gary Coleman.

And that’s when Jeb remembered, “Aha! I still have my ping-pong ball slingshot!” Enter Jeb:

BUSH: Could I — could I bring something up here, because I’m a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. . .

Marco swats away the assault:

RUBIO: Well, it’s interesting. Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you’re modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you’re going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you’re now modeling after?

And here’s Bush’s devastating comeback:

BUSH: He wasn’t my senator.

Really?

#related#First of all, does anyone believe that Jeb has a problem getting “constituent service” help from politicians when he needs it? Is he calling Rubio’s office demanding assistance with a visa to Botswana and just can’t get anyone on the phone? Is he still having trouble getting his noise complaints about the local Hooters attended to? More relevant, Bush conceded that he doesn’t care that McCain missed votes. His complaint is grounded in his parochial interest as a Floridian. So even on its own terms, Bush’s complaint shouldn’t bother anybody but Floridians. Maybe that will help — a little — in the Florida primary, but even Bush implicitly concedes New Hampshire and Iowa voters shouldn’t care.

Final Fantasy

That moment was the most devastating politically, and I put the blame almost entirely on his handlers. They gave him those “weapons” and convinced him to use them.

But the more disappointing moment came later.

Here’s the scene as I imagine it at Bush HQ during Wednesday night’s debate, my comments are in the brackets:

QUINTANILLA: Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I’m 7 and 0 in my fantasy league.

[Cheers erupt at Bush HQ. Fists pump the air, putting visual exclamation points on shouts of “Nailed it!” and “Yes!” The laughter sounds a bit forced, but it’s really a sign of relief, like when an airline passenger survives a really rough landing and then guffaws when the tray table suddenly comes down.]

QUINTANILLA: I had a feeling you were going to brag about that.

BUSH: Gronkowski is still going strong. I have Ryan Tannehill, Marco, as my quarterback, he was 18 for 19 last week. So I’m doing great. But we’re not gambling . . .

[Only a smattering of cheers this time, but lots of knowing, prideful nods cascade across the room among Bush loyalists. “This is good. This is good,” says one strategist. “He’s proving he didn’t make up that 7-and-0 thing, sounding like a normal guy.” A rookie consultant adds, “And he’s reassuring Evangelicals that he’s not a gambler.”]

BUSH continues: And I think this has become something that needs to be looked at in terms of regulation.

[“Crap on a stick!” shouts one staffer in the back of the room, as he drains a glass full of bourbon and Pepto-bismal].

BUSH continues: Effectively it is day-trading without any regulation at all. And when you have insider information, which apparently has been the case, where people use that information and use big data to try to take advantage of it, there has to be some regulation.

If they can’t regulate themselves, then the NFL needs to look at just, you know, moving away from them a little bit. And there should be some regulation. I have no clue whether the federal government is the proper place, my instinct is to say, hell no, just about everything about the federal government . . .

[Then, suddenly, like a rabid polar bear charging in from off screen in My Dinner with André, Chris Christie appears]

CHRISTIE: Carl, are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football?

(LAUGHTER)

We have — wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?

[It’s at this moment that one of the staffers screams, “Damn it! These f***ing windows don’t open!” and looks to see if he can put his head in the microwave oven. Another quietly walks into the next room and calls the Rubio campaign to see if they’re hiring.]

Maybe I’m being a little unfair to Jeb, and he did say his instinct is to say “Hell no” to federal involvement. But the overall takeaway from his response was closer to the reverse. It seemed like his instinct was to say “Hell no” while actually doing the opposite.

RELATED: It’s Time to Thin the Republican Herd

The rap on Bush, as Rich Lowry and others have been saying for a very long time, is that he is a pre-Obama, pre-tea-party Republican. I’ve been to quite a few tea-party events. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Restoring the Constitution to its proper role in our Republic is fine, but what are we going to do about regulating fantasy football!?”

Burke v. Bush

Jeb may be right about fantasy football having problems. Frankly, I have no idea. But I am pretty certain that the next president of the United States will have more important issues to deal with.

Edmund Burke once said, “I must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes.” What he meant by this is the prudent statesmen must allow society to work out its own problems, using the force of government to intervene only when those problems require it.

(He was specifically talking about priests who were sometimes too gung-ho in their priestly duties:

I can allow in clergymen, through all their divisions, some tenaciousness of their own opinion, some overflowings of zeal for its propagation, some predilection to their own state and office, some attachment to the interests of their own corps, some preference to those who listen with docility to their doctrines, beyond those who scorn and deride them. I allow all this, because I am a man who have to deal with men, and who would not, through a violence of toleration, run into the greatest of all intolerance. I must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes.)

I hate it when people analogize citizens to children and government to parents, but there’s a similar point here. When you’re raising kids, sometimes you’ve got to let them work it out for a while before sticking your nose in. (In fact, the evidence is pouring in that we’re raising a whole generation of kids who don’t know how to work out their problems on their own. But that’s a subject for another “news”letter.)

#related#I’ve knocked Jeb countless times for his inability to follow through on his promise to run “joyfully.” For a year I’ve been saying, in effect: Stop telling me what motivates your character, and start showing it to me. But at this point it’s probably too late. Because even if he somehow managed to seem joyful, Bush has already convinced people he’s not. Indeed, the fact that he says he wants to run joyfully only underscores the depth of his problem: he knows what to do, but can’t bring himself to do it. As Jim Geraghty puts it in that quotation-mark-less newsletter, “He is a man fundamentally at odds with the mood and thinking of his party at this moment.”

That doesn’t mean he’s a bad man or a RINO or a worse alternative to Donald Trump. But it does mean that this is not his time.

#share#

Various & Sundry

Speaking of Geraghty, raising kids, or raising yourself, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get a Job, Raise a Family, and Other Manly Advice. It’s a great, fun, and a very useful read on the de-chestification of men in America. Also, and I say this as a self-interested party, the single best way you can help the writers you like — never mind the ones who send you free newsletters (wink) — is by buying their books. The Goldberg File is only once a week, but it requires a significant investment of time and energy. The Morning Jolt is daily and requires an even greater commitment. We appreciate the loyal readers in their own right, of course, but speaking only for myself, these things are hard to justify financially solely on their own merits. If you value these newsletters at all — say at the price of a quarter a week — then the cost of a book is still a bargain. Plus, you get a really good book in the process! My next book won’t be out for a while, but you can expect I will be making this case again and again. (Another way you can help is by encouraging TV and radio programs to bring writers you like on their shows, particularly when they have books out. Lots of the folks you see on TV work the refs to get on as much as possible. I hate that crap, but when support comes organically from the viewers, it helps).

My column today is on how Ben Carson is black. It’s really quite amazing how little attention this gets, given how much the Left and the media (but I repeat myself) have invested in the idea that the GOP is just gussied-up Klavern.

My column earlier this week was on how the data keep proving that the traditional family is the best for kids. One point I should have added is that it’s entirely possible that the even more traditional, pre-nuclear family — you know, with grandparents and even aunts, uncles, and cousins living in close proximity — is even better than what today passes for the traditional family. I think it’s an important point, because even that which passes for the “ideal” family structure can be improved upon.

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Zoë & Pippa Update: Things are still going relatively well. There are still numerous jealousy issues to be dealt with, including some newfound hostility to other dogs. Also, even though Zoë likes Pippa now, they still have completely different lifestyles. Pippa’s idea of play is to fetch tennis balls until she passes out from exhaustion. Zoë’s idea of play is Fight Club. So even when Zoë is playing with Pippa, poor Pippa is hopelessly outmatched. Another (disgusting!) challenge is that Pippa is like a magnet for ticks. We’re putting her on Frontline today (we wanted to wait for her first checkup at the vet), so hopefully that will fix the problem.

I will be on Special Report and Hannity tonight (if you’re reading this today. I was on last night if you’re reading this tomorrow).

The latest GLoP podcast is out.

Yes, the Goldbergs will be getting their zombie on again this year. Maybe I’ll have pictures for you. I don’t normally publicize pictures of my daughter, but I think she’s sufficiently disguised as a zombie escaped prisoner here.

Happy Halloween!

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