Not looking good…

Since Alex Pareene has weighed in with an (I hope) satirical bit of advice for Jeb Bush, I figured I’d do the same. You see, it’s easy to stand and laugh at the calumny of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, but I’ve decided that I want to help. And all joking aside, these ideas couldn’t be worse than the shopworn, stupid shit they’ve been doing. So here goes.

Dear Jeb,

Let’s be honest. You haven’t been doing well in your presidential run. Typically, “bargainer” candidates–i.e. the ones who try to strike a bargain with politics, who try to keep it from infecting their souls and changing them completely–tend to flop spectacularly, and you’re no different. Have you not read What It Takes? Your father and brother are both totally in it, and I think it might have set you up for more realistic expectations of what to expect. You can’t just wish away all the bullshit, can’t raise enough money to insulate you from it. That’s not how it works. So now, your campaign is looking not so great, and everyone is crowning Marco Rubio the nominee. But Rubio is far from being universally embraced–he is not really all that compelling either and can only win by default. He is even more a creature of rich Republican donors than you are, to the extent that’s possible, and yet he still can’t fundraise. Can’t close the deal. He’s just waiting you out at this point. But you can still wait him out, and you can certainly damage him too. Forget that bullshit about missed Senate votes and that, nobody cares. Here’s what you really want to attack him on:

  1. Age and Status
    I’m sure you’ve noticed just how much older the Republican electorate is getting these days. And it hasn’t credibly been young since arguably the 1850s, in a literal sense that is. In recent times the youngest Republican nominee was your brother who, while he acted largely like the sullen teenager he was when his stunted emotional growth stopped, was a man in his fifties who felt it. Meanwhile, the party has gone to the septuagenarian well again and again: Reagan. Dole. McCain. Romney and the first Bush weren’t too far off either. The GOP loves an old person nominee, and this may well be part of why the party hasn’t completely coalesced around Rubio. So this is what you do. Have advisers talk about him as a callow youth. Hell, maybe even stage an embarrassing “hot mike” moment where you use those exact words, in order to start a discussion on the topic that does minimal damage to you. (One of The West Wing‘s more politically astute episodes involved this.) Find some information on his (allegedly) crazy frat partying days. Make offhanded comments about his youth and attractiveness. In a Democratic primary, this would be a real no-no, because Democrats love youthful candidates. Kennedy. Clinton. Obama. But Republicans are a whole different story. This is your best bet. You clearly haven’t spent as much time around actual Republicans as I have, having grown up in a dreary conservative exurb in Northern California, back when it was much Reagan country. So I’ll break it down for you: every Republican sees himself as a winner. That many of them are not winners of any sort (often tragically so) is no deterrent to this belief, and is easily explicable as due entirely to external circumstances. Young bucks, the government, etc. This breeds enormous resentment at the “undeserving” successes of the world. Right now, this resentment is turned to you. But you can turn it to the young, handsome Rubio if you do it right. Looks, youth, power and fame are all better targets of resentment for this crowd than old money, with which they feel a kinship anyway.
  2. Insider
    This is the year of the Republican outsider, as everyone has said. Your brother somehow managed to pull off the “outsider” moniker, despite it being completely ridiculous. But you’re not going to be able to do it this time, for many reasons. So instead, destroy Rubio’s image as any sort of outsider, and instead paint him as an even bigger insider than you are. This is also ridiculous, but it’s not at all impossible. You have some material: Marco Rubio has spent more time in elected office than you have. Almost twice as much, actually. He began his service in the Florida House in early 2000, which means just shy of fourteen full years as an elected official as he was “off” for two years between serving in that august body and becoming a Senator. He was a political operative before that, too, but don’t go there–you’ve been one your whole life, essentially. Pepper speeches talking about Rubio’s long stretch in elected politics. Then after he responds (most likely by saying something like “I’ve been in politics awhile, but I’ve never considered myself an insider.”), shift to talking about how he’s been in politics so long but accomplished nothing. This cements the narrative and moves it forward, setting a trap. He’ll respond with something like, “That’s not true. I’ve fought against bad liberal ideas my whole career, and that’s more important than just passing a bunch of laws.” Then drop immigration on him. And then watch as he flails. You know the feeling all too well.
  3. Personal Stuff
    You have to bring up Rubio’s chronic personal debt problems. Old folks in particular are very harsh about this sort of thing. But it has to be done the right way. Here’s my suggestion for an ad. Find a clip of Rubio making the liberal’s bete noire comparison of the federal budget to the home checkbook. He’s definitely said it. You all do, even though you know better. Find that bit of him speaking, then cut to an actor playing an accountant looking at Rubio’s “books” and bringing up his maxed out credit cards, et al. Wrap it up with the guy saying, “Well, if Marco Rubio manages the federal budget like his checkbook, we’ll be bankrupt in three months.” Put this out through back channels, a Super PAC, whatever. You Bushes know how to do this. Remember the Swift Boat guys? Anyway, if this goes out, Rubio’s camp will go absolutely nuclear about it and press you to denounce it. As a Bush, you know how to deal with this. Your dad and bro sure did. “…independent entity…no coordination with the campaign…take the high road…” And in the Super PAC era, that might sound a bit more plausible than it should. Everybody will know it’s bullshit, but you’ll be insulated to some extent, and the Rubio camp will get even angrier and crazier. It’ll get endless air time on the cable nets, could even go viral. Maybe do another with an actor playing Rubio getting his allowance docked because he spent it all on baseball cards and soda. Only the guy playing Rubio is near Rubio’s age, and his parents are elderly people. You’ll take a bit of a hit for this, “truth and honesty” and so forth, but Rubio will take a much bigger one. It’s a gambit, one that Bushes have employed for decades. There’s no limit to the judgmental abilities of Republicans, even if many of them have the same sorts of problems. Again, they all see themselves as winners, even the ones who can barely afford to put food on the table. Making Rubio a deadbeat makes him not a winner. In fact, if you play it right, you can turn him into a sort of version of a young buck. That would be sweet.

These are just three ideas, but it should be enough to get you rolling. Also, to the extent that you can, dismiss debates as irrelevant to the performance of any element of the presidency. This happens to be true–world politics isn’t decided by hauling other heads of state onto a stage and having it out–though at this point it unavoidably sounds like sour grapes. Execute at least two of the items on the list before going there. Do it while Rubio’s sweating a bit. Then start talking about how pointless being a good debater is. “You don’t beat Vladimir Putin with some zingers in debates. You do it with real American toughness.” Turn the strength against him, Rove-style. Make people see him as a hothouse flower who can only thrive in the debate environment. The one negative after all this is done is that you don’t really have any carrots to offer him after using the stick–the Constitution specifies that the president and vice president must come from different states, and both of you are so “Florida!” about it that it would be a bit awkward if that’s where you wanted to go. Though maybe you could have some fun with it. “You decide where Marco Rubio declares residency to be on the ticket!” Nice contest. Hell, maybe give him to a state like Idaho that is never, ever going to have a president or vice president come from there. That would be nice of you.

Most sincerely,

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  1. […] If I had to pick a winner from this debate, it would probably be Marco Rubio. While I do not care for him, I thought he came across much better in this debate than he has in the previous two. And the big loser would once again have to be Jeb Bush. He may or may not be the least objectionable of the remaining Republican candidates, but his performance in the debates has been consistently poor. In fact, I’ve been surprised by just how poorly he comes across. I imagine that his big-money supporters in the Republican establishment cannot be happy with what they have been seeing from him. He he hopes to defeat Rubio and his other rivals, he’s going to have to try something else. […]

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