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Unforced Errors And Miscalculations End Bush’s White House Hopes

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Unforced Errors And Miscalculations End Bush’s White House Hopes


By Steve Holland

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Before Donald Trump’s put-downs and the stumbles in presidential debates, and before the profound frustration of voters became so unmistakably apparent, Jeb Bush appeared to be best positioned to win back the White House for Republicans in 2016.

He amassed a $150 million war chest in 2015, surrounded himself with some of the best minds in the party, had a famous last name and attracted the support of the party establishment.

And yet, after a dismal finish in South Carolina, Bush dropped out of the race on Saturday with an emotional speech.

“I firmly believe the American people must entrust this office to someone who understands that whoever holds it is the servant, not the master, someone who will commit to that service with honor and decency,” he said.

    How Bush found himself out of the race after just the third nominating contest of 2016 is a cautionary tale of political miscalculation and strategic errors, according to interviews with a dozen Republican operatives, many with close ties to the Bush campaign and others who worked for the last two Republican presidential nominees, conducted during the last days of his campaign.

From the start, they said, Bush appeared to misjudge the mood of the Republican base. In December 2014, for instance, Bush gathered his senior aides and a small group of national political operatives for a meeting in Miami to talk about his coming candidacy. A survey to gauge the national mood of the party was dismissed by Bush and his aides as unnecessary. Such polling, a participant said, would have made clear to Bush the rebellious sentiment of the conservative base of the party.

    “They missed the boat,” the participant said.

The polling may have also helped the campaign spot the threat of Trump, a billionaire and political outsider who tapped into that anti-establishment anger and stormed to the top of the polls.

The Bush campaign disputed the charge as inaccurate.

“He has shared the frustration of voters from the outset and he has not strayed from that,” said spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. “He has presented a hopeful, optimistic message that is based on the belief that he has the leadership skills to get the job done.”


Viewing Trump as a summer fad who would fade given his outrageous comments, the campaign was slow to respond to the billionaire when he first blasted Bush last August as “low-energy.” Bush maintained his above-the-fray strategy and focused on his policy proposals instead of mixing it up with Trump.

Trump relentlessly and bluntly attacked Bush in speeches and on Twitter, portraying him as tired, weak and out of touch with the party. Trump has mentioned Bush on Twitter hundreds of times, far more than any other Republican candidate.

    “There was a decision made that he was not a serious person and would fade away,” said one Republican strategist close to the Bush camp, who asked to remain anonymous. “You don’t want to dignify somebody who wasn’t a serious candidate. It wasn’t just Jeb. Nobody thought he was.”

    When the “low energy” attacks on Bush started to take hold and his poll numbers began dropping, he went out of his way to insist he had plenty of energy to be president, talking of working 16-hour days, putting in feistier appearances on the stump and hitting back at Trump hard.

   Behind the scenes, though, donors said they fretted that too much time had gone by before he took the problem seriously.

    Some confidants of the former Florida governor seethed for weeks at Trump’s taunts and urged the campaign to shift to a more aggressive posture.

    “They made a horrendous miscalculation in not understanding the intent of the low-energy attack, which was designed to emasculate Bush, to make him look weak,” said Steve Schmidt, who was campaign manager to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain.

    “Defining him as weak denied him the ability to make the argument that by resume, competence and experience he was the most fit to command,” said Schmidt.

    When Bush launched his campaign in June, he was the clear frontrunner among Republicans, polling at nearly 18 percent in a crowded field. Roughly six weeks later Trump had taken a commanding lead with 26 percent and Bush had dropped to around 12 percent, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Today Trump stands at 38 percent.

But Trump was hardly Bush’s only obstacle.


Perhaps his biggest misstep was one of his own making, when he spent days trying to explain whether he would have launched the Iraq war begun by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

    Even George W. Bush has admitted mistakes were made in the 2003 conflict. But for a week last May, Jeb Bush was flummoxed by the question. The trouble began when he told Fox News that “I would have” launched the invasion even knowing what is now known – that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

While Bush said he did not understand the question, his response began days of controversy that fed a narrative pushed by Democrats that he was little different from his brother when it came to Iraq.

    Some of Bush’s foreign policy advisers were surprised that Bush did not have an answer prepared for the inevitable question.

    There was a disagreement among his advisers on how best to respond, “a genuine amount of confusion and upsetness about the whole thing,” said one outside adviser to the campaign, who asked to be anonymous.

    Not wanting to be disloyal to his brother, Bush spent days trying to articulate a position until he finally disavowed the statement and declared he would not have ordered the war.

    “The fact that we went through this anguished process of several days and several kinds of answers was quite astonishing,” the adviser said.

    Finally, George W. Bush told his brother he did not need to defend decisions made back in 2003.

Jeb Bush had an on-again, off-again strategy to embrace the family name, but finally took full advantage of his family in New Hampshire and especially in South Carolina, where the Bush family name remains a valuable brand.

For the first time in the campaign former President George W. Bush hit the campaign trail in South Carolina for his brother, addressing thousands of Republicans at a rally.

“I know campaigns are stressful and taxing,” he said. “But they should be. Because the job of the president is much harder than the campaign.”

The challenges of the campaign were driven home two days later when Jeb Bush learned that South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, would endorse Rubio.

It was a double blow for Bush: not only did he fail to secure the backing of a popular governor, it went instead to Rubio, his one-time political protégé who has been the target of stinging attacks from Bush. His allied Super PAC, Right to Rise USA, spent at least $12.5 million on advertising opposing Rubio, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Bush learned about the endorsement at a town hall meeting in Summerville, South Carolina, where some members of the audience gave him advice on how to run his campaign. He summed up the news briskly. “Disappointed,” he said.

By Saturday night, less than two hours after the polls had closed, Bush had called it quits.

(Additional reporting by Grant Smith, Melissa Fares and Chris Kahn; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Ross Colvin)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush leaves Wade’s Restaurant after a campaign event in Greenville, South Carolina February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Rainier Ehrhardt



  1. Theodora30 February 21, 2016

    I think he underestimated just how much the base in its heart of hearts hates that Bush got us involved in Iraq. I think they have been on the defensive all this time because they do not want to admit it was a colossal blunder by their guy but down deep they know it was a YOOUGE mistake.

    A big unforced error was Jeb getting his brother’s neocon advisors responsible for getting us involved to be his foreign policy advisors. It undermined his claim to be his own man while at the same time tying himself even closer to his brother.

    The same goes for Jeb’s biggest unforced error – saying his brother kept us safe. Die hard conservatives may not openly admit it bit even they know how stupid that claim is. 3000 people dead and all Bush did to avoid an attack was to tell his advisors who desperately tried to warn him to buzz off (“you’ve covered your ass”). Having The Donald say this out loud is like the kid crying out that the Emperor is naked. Everyone knows it’s true.

  2. Otto Greif February 21, 2016

    He made the minor miscalculation of acting like he was running for President of Mexico.

  3. ringostarr1 February 21, 2016

    If Bush acted like he was running for President because he is currently married to a Mexican then Donald Trump is acting like he is running for President of Russia because he had to find himself a desperate Russian bride.

  4. 1standlastword February 21, 2016

    This is all about the arrogance of well-healed.

    Bush didn’t bother to evaluate the mood of modern republicans in the way his dumb-ass incurious brother didn’t bother with his daily presidential briefings.

    Then he dismissed Trump as a rich hillbilly without the capacity to commit to a cause as high as the “highest job” in the land. WTF Cabrón!!!

    The man is spending his own $$$$$$$$ to play in a game he doesn’t intend to finish!

    This means Bush thought low of Trump because to him Trump is a hustler who just happens to be rich. But Bush knows his money is in the soil of America.

    This meta-level message must have fueled Trump’s ire and drove him to give Bush a New York ass whopping, define him as a effete BIATCH and mug the rich HOE!

    Bush’s Thurston Howell III attitude–relaxed, confident and oooh sooo positive is proof pudding he and his base are out of touch with average struggling workaday Americans who they azz-phucked BIG TIME with their far flung enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan and the casino games on Wall Street

    Adios pendejo!!!

    1. JPHALL February 21, 2016

      Thurston Howell III, what a great comparison!

    2. The lucky one February 22, 2016

      “to him Trump is a hustler who just happens to be rich with “dirty money” He was right about that but misjudged the stupidity of the people in his own party.

  5. FireBaron February 22, 2016

    So the “Smarter Brother” finally did the intelligent thing and got out while he was behind.

  6. Eleanore Whitaker February 22, 2016

    No matter what other excuses may crop up to explain JEB’s failure to pull out in front, the one he should have known was a four letter word “BUSH” (Acronym for Biased, Underhanded, Secretive Hedonism).

    It is a tribute to Americans that they refuse to live through another era of mindless Republican austerity.

  7. Eleanore Whitaker February 22, 2016

    What is becoming all too clear is the real problem with Republican voters: the least educated, least financially self-reliant, least responsible and most easily influenced.

    When you come from the Corn Pone and Mutton Chops states, you swallow BS whole and then realize AFTER the election that you got ripped off by one of your own.

  8. Paul Bass February 22, 2016

    Jeb! so clueless, he didn’t realize he is HATED by ALL democrats and Half the GOP.

    And that you can’t run a country on fooling less than 1/4 of the population…

  9. Hank Gagnon February 22, 2016

    No errors made at all. Jeb was weak was not electable after his father and Brother’s disastrous Presidencies. PLUS: He never really wanted it. It was obvious. The Cheney Oil/War Cartel forced him to run.

  10. oldtack February 22, 2016

    Bush came on as “I’m Jeb bush of the Bush dynasty and I am entitled to the position of President by virtue of my family background.”This pious self serving approach fell on deaf ears among the disgruntled Party members and when he came under attack from Trump and Rubio he had a panic attack and did the unthinkable. Like a child being harassed by the school yard Bully he called for Mama to come to his rescue and when that ploy failed he called for big brother . How misguided and pathetic. Can you imagine what kind of President he would have been?

  11. jamcrky February 22, 2016

    The Bush name is tarnish after George W invading Iraq with nothing more than a bunch of lies…Jeb biggest mistake was defending his brother about the war saying he would have done the same thing…..That was really dumb

  12. todd w February 22, 2016

    We don’t need another Quayle hiding in the Bushes of the White House !


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