Shortly after announcing he was running for president, Jeb Bush was emphatic that he was a different man from his presidential brother.
However, thanks to his arch-nemesis Donald J. Trump, Jeb is spending an awful amount of time defending George W. Bush’s unpopular tenure as president — the complete opposite of what the former Florida governor was supposed to do during his campaign.
On Friday, The Donald did what The Donald does and made a provocative statement that was destined to be received with outrage by the Bush clan. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Trump faulted George Bush for allowing 9/11 to happen during his tenure. (RELATED: Trump Faults Bush For Not Stopping 9/11)
Jeb immediately responded with a tweet that called the Republican frontrunner “pathetic” and declared his brother “kept us safe.”
How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) October 16, 2015
As is characteristic of the mogul’s trolling, Trump quickly veered the attack from 9/11 to immigration and the Iraq war, making the assault more in-line with the message of the mogul.
Jeb, why did your brother attack and destabalize the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction? Bad info?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2015
This leaves Bush with the politically-hazardous task of defending the decision to invade Iraq and reminding voters that he is still closely related to the most unpopular president in recent history.
Bush saying his brother “kept us safe” all but gives permission to the media to bring up the the 43rd president’s best known venture in protecting America. And it wasn’t throwing the first pitch at the Yankees game.
The Iraq war is the albatross hanging from Jeb’s neck. Distancing himself from George and avoiding unnecessary discussion of the intervention makes for smart campaign strategy, and that appeared to be Jeb’s plan at the start.
Seventy-one percent of Americans think the invasion was a failure. A group far worse than Saddam Hussein ever was now controls a sizable amount of Iraqi territory and there’s little chance ISIS is going to give it up any time soon. The president responsible for the excursion left office with a 29 percent approval rating.
It’s also worth noting that the last Republican who had to run for president defending Bush’s record lost decisively to a then-unproven senator from Illinois.
There’s a good reason why Bush has been so adamant to not bring up his brother, to say how he’s a different man, to not allow George to campaign for him and to conspicuously only use “Jeb!” on election gear. The entire GOP has spent the last seven years trying put distance between the party and the disputed legacy of George W. Bush.
Jeb’s whole strategy is banking on America changing its mind on Dubya and seeing the younger Bush as a different person.
Trump’s trolling has effectively forced Bush to make the connection between him and his elder brother more apparent to voters. It also brings up the topic of whether the Iraq invasion was the right thing to do — a discussion the GOP doesn’t want to have.
The establishment favorite learned that lesson earlier this year when it took him a whole week and three tries to get his answer right on the intervention. And the final answer wasn’t that he would’ve gone into Iraq again.
If Iraq becomes a major campaign discussion, Bush is going to have to defend the Iraq qwar and say it was the right thing to do. Trump is banking on America not wanting another Bush and agreeing with him that the war was a yuuuge mistake.
It’s clear that Bush is finding it harder and harder to ignore Trump’s attacks — to the advantage of Trump. Early on in the campaign season, he tried to ignore the TV star’s one-liners but once The Donald surged in the polls, that task became unfeasible. Now the former governor is always having to refute Trump’s statements.
Maybe Trump wasn’t intentionally trying to prod Jeb into a fight a Bush couldn’t win, but the businessman has certainly manipulated the situation to make it advantageous to himself.
Bush’s primary pitch is that he is the most electable Republican, the sole adult running in a clown show. Considering his numerous gaffes and now him reaffirming the connection with Bush 43, that pitch is looking weaker every day.
How Jeb can somehow overcome his numerous obstacles is anybody’s guess.
One thing is for certain: Trump is in his head, and it’s driving Bush mad.