Back in January of 2014, Jeb Bush said he would run for president only if he could “do it joyfully.”
And for a while, a fun time it was, as Bush stood as the presumptive favorite and joyfully amassed tens of millions of dollars to ensure that sadness never crept into the campaign.
But then along came Donald Trump and his crazy-high poll numbers and rock-star appearances before screaming fans in crowded rooms and stadiums, while Bush lagged in the polls and seemed barely able to fill a Starbucks.
Suddenly, there was less joy around to savor.
Still, for weeks, Bush had clung to the happiness that was left proclaiming himself a “joyful tortoise” – a play on the “tortoise nickname his brother George gave him. The tortoise would merrily plod along to the end while Trump, whom one might refer to as the hare, eventually said something so outrageous that his poll numbers would decline. And then all the joy would be back!
It would happen. All the smart people in Washington said so.
And Trump did indeed say controversial things. But the weird thing was, his polls didn’t fall at all. In fact, Trump seemed to be getting even stronger!
Soon, the hare might run away and never be seen by the tortoise again. So last week Bush gave up on the joy and switched to Plan B: Destroy the opposition.
“Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record,” Bush said. “He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican. He has given more money to Democrats than he’s given to Republicans.”
Trump is using “vitriolic language” on immigration, Bush snapped. He grew testy when questioned about his use of the term “anchor babies.” “Do you want to get to the policy for a second?” he demanded. “I think that people born in the country ought to be American citizens. OK? Now we got that over with.”
And with $120 million reportedly in the coffers of his allied PACs and campaign, Bush will have lots of hate to spread around.
Of course, Plan B has been in the wings all along, even while joy reigned. Right to Rise, the pro-Bush Super PAC, “has its own in-house team of researchers digging into his opponents and could go negative quickly,” according to Politico.
However, the PAC’s chief strategist, Mike Murphy, suggested last week that a negative ad barrage is not coming right away. “If other campaigns wish that we’re going to uncork money on Donald Trump, they’ll be disappointed,” Murphy said.
If fact, some of Plan B came to light accidentally early this month when Bloomberg News noticed some joyless statements on the Bush campaign website.
“The only job Scott Walker cares about creating is his own,” the website said. “Obama And Rubio’s State Experiences Certainly Are Comparable,” it declared. Such hateful things were quickly deleted, since Plan B was not ready yet for implementation. These were merely “draft pages that were taken down,” the Bush campaign said.But Plan B is starting to move ahead, with Jeb’s attacks an early sign of what is to come.
If Trump isn’t going to implode, then Bush will have to rely on the classic political strategy of destroying one’s opponent, which done “joyfully” would sort of look like sadism.
So it will be done without joy. The Bushes do not play to lose. And despite their sunny image, they will deploy the forces of darkness when needed.
Who can forget the Willie Horton affair of 1988. Ads ran presenting the awful visage of the convicted killer who had been furloughed in Massachusetts under then-Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was running for president against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Horton used the furlough to escape and commit more savage crimes. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, said Dukakis would “strip the bark off the little bastard” and “make Willie Horton his running mate.”
Then there was the 2000 primary contest, when it appeared then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush might lose the nomination to Sen. John McCain of Arizona. During the contest for the key state of South Carolina, a mysterious effort emerged smearing McCain, including a charge that he had fathered an illegitimate child with a black woman. The Bush campaign strongly denied involvement, but McCain saw his lead evaporate and lost the state by 9 percentage points.
Most famously, there was the 2000 “Swift Boat” attack on Bush’s general election foe, then-Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, an effort by a group of Bush supporters to discredit Kerry’s Vietnam War service. Fair or not, Kerry’s “Swift Boating” was tough medicine, and the term is now used to connote false, relentless attacks on a political opponent.
Bush allies, like former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are capable of hitting the low road and may well do so of Jeb. Barbour’s political machine bankrolled race-based attacks on Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel during his primary challenge last year against Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, according to National Review. The machine funded a group that ran ads saying McDaniel would set back “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups” and suggesting McDaniel wanted to “roll back the hand of time.”
Jeb Bush is no less competitive than his brother or his father. He will do what it takes to defeat Trump. Get ready for what may soon become the most joyless GOP primary in history.