A tribute to the sad, sad campaign of Jeb! Bush

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A tribute to the sad, sad campaign of Jeb! Bush

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In an election cycle that has so far upended all of the rules, the latest casualty might just be the most astonishing one. After disappointing results in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Jeb Bush (Jeb!) announced last week that he would be suspending his campaign and dropping out of the 2016 presidential race.

Bush has been floundering in the polls for so long that it’s easy to forget he was once a serious contender. When he first entered the race, no Republican candidate seemed better poised to win the nomination. An experienced governor from an important swing state, Jeb also had the added benefit of name recognition — being the son of one former president and brother of another. He garnered numerous endorsements and GOP mega-donors quickly coalesced behind him; at $100 million, Bush’s campaign coffers were larger than the rest of the GOP field combined. Months before the first primary votes had even been cast, people were already envisioning a historic third member of the Bush family in the Oval Office.

But if Jeb Bush was born to be president, he had been training for an entirely different kind of race. The last time he ran for office was in 2002, when he was re-elected as Florida governor. Much has changed in the GOP since then. In a race dominated by political outsiders, Bush found himself in the uncomfortable position of appealing to a Republican electorate that has come to see experience as a detriment, the Establishment as the enemy and “moderate” as a synonym for “Democrat.”

But no single name has brought the former governor more grief than Trump. While it’s true that no one could have predicted the phenomenon Trump would become, Bush in particular consistently underestimated his opponent and misread his appeal. This made him an easy target for Trump, who seemed to almost revel in mocking Bush for everything from his stage persona to his brother’s presidential legacy.

Of course, it’s hard not to lay at least some of the blame at Bush’s feet. Even among the other Establishment-friendly candidates, Bush struggled to gain any traction. He appeared uncomfortable in debates and out of touch in interviews. He stumbled over hypothetical questions about the Iraq War. As Republican voters responded enthusiastically to the feelings of anger and frustration espoused by Trump, Bush maintained his message of optimism, nuance and “business-as-usual.”

As the race dragged on, the Bush campaign went from disappointing to downright embarrassing. When a Trump supporter noticed that the Bush campaign had neglected to purchase the domain name “JebBush.com,” he purchased it himself and turned it into a redirect for Trump’s campaign site. Videos on YouTube have even compiled the “saddest” moments of the Bush campaign, with cringe-worthy clips of the former governor bearing the brunt of Trump’s onstage bullying, asking an audience to “Please clap” at the end of a campaign speech, and even struggling to put on a sweater.

Regardless of your views, it’s hard not to watch these videos without some morsel of sympathy for poor old Jeb.

Would he have made a good president? In all likelihood, he would have continued the legacy of his brother— not an entirely appealing prospect (As one editor put it, “same bullshit, different guy”).

But he was level-headed, compassionate and genuine. In light of some of the alternatives in the GOP field, maybe the end of the Bush dynasty is something to mourn.