… The atmosphere inside the campaign hall on Saturday night was appropriately despondent, but it wasn’t always this way. In the early days of his 2016 run, which began officially in June last year, Bush enjoyed solid poll numbers, even managing to best the now seemingly unbeatable Trump for a short time. Despite critiques at what some viewed as an intolerable dynastic presidential line, Bush, it seemed, was a shoo-in.
And then Trump did what Trump did best: He bullied. More specifically, he seemed to hone his sharpened attacks on the“low-energy” Bush, making a mockery of Bush’s relatively buttoned-up qualities with renewed vigor as the months progressed. Between openly and repeatedly calling the ex-governor a liar, lampooning his selected eyewear, and painting him as the third act in a failed Bush legacy, Trump stopped at nothing to shred any lingering hopes Bush had at running a self-assured campaign. By last week’s GOP debate in Greenville, South Carolina, the shaky Jeb Bush that took to the CBS stage was a hollow-shell of the poised candidate supporters once knew.
Bush’s rivals, of course, followed along in Trump’s wake — unwillingly, but without a second thought. As Ted Cruz began to ramp up his rhetoric to match Trump’s, perhaps hoping to score the same blistering lead as the bombastic mogul, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Carson (and perhaps even Rand Paul, for a short time) warily hopped aboard the Trump train in an explosive power-grab, increasing the severity of their language or taking on firmer stances as the Party’s scrappy alternative candidates. Bush, however, never seemed able (or eager) to do the same.
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Political columnist Ezra Klein, in a recent Vox one-off, attributed the “terrifying” rise in aggression to the public’s vacuous interest in Trump’s absurd antics, a trend off of which Trump’s campaign both fed and flourished. In an August column last year, The New Yorker called Trump’s followers “fearful and frustrated”, claiming that the 2016 campaign’s steady decline into chaos was due in large part to a nagging, predictably racist undercurrent among that same supporter base. “Trump’s signature lines,” columnist Evan Osnos wrote, “constitute a bitter mantra in tune with a moment” when anti-government sentiment and distrust in cultural progress seems to have finally met its match. And in that world, Jeb Bush has no role to play.
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Image: Michael Vadon