Jeb Bush suddenly lurched to life during Thursday night’s Fox News debate, offering crisp, forceful comments of the kind that have largely been absent from every one of the preceding six debates and begging the question: Is he completely cowed by Donald Trump?
With Trump on the stage, the former Florida governor had in previous debates seemed hesitant, like a tentative child who thought he was about to get smacked by his parent for saying something stupid. He often spoke meekly, seemed a bit apologetic, and sometimes politely stammered that he might like to get a word in before being denied by moderators of smacked down by Trump.
But during the final debate before Monday night’s Iowa caucus, Bush sounded far more self-assured. If voters respond, Trump’s absence may have had one unattended effect: Giving the beaten former favorite a chance to remove the stake from his heart and return from the political dead.
Bush did not put himself in a position to overtake Trump. He’s way too far behind for that. But he may finally be able to mount a challenge to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the mantle of Establishment candidate.
The only problem for Bush is that Rubio also turned in a strong performance, offering his typical passionate comments and levying bruising attacks against both Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The other problem for Jeb is that what’s wrong with him as a candidate is not just his demeanor, but his moderate Republican, pro-amnesty, policies and his firm ensconcement in the GOP Establishment, which is not what most Republicans are looking for.
“We should have a path to legal status for the 12 million people that are here illegally,” he declared.
After adding certain conditions, he said, “I think that’s the conservative consensus pragmatic approach to how to solve this problem.”
Bush specifically embraced his exalted place in the Establishment.
But look below at how much less assertive he appeared during a previous debate with the dominant Trump by his side.
But of course, Bush’s ability to crawl out of his shell without Trump around begs a second question: Will he creep right back in it the next time he shares the dais with towering real estate mogul.