It becomes more clear at each debate and the days following that Jeb Bush is circling the drain in the GOP presidential race.
I have been tracking his steady decent into obscurity for a couple of months now. I have been trying to square why he has some of the best name recognition and background of any candidate in either party and yet nets the traction of a bald tire on a black ice hill.
Wednesday night it came to me as he stood there, taller and bespectacled and earnest, trying to launch barbs in 10 different directions but coming off like Big Bird after waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
Jeb is the unwitting straight man in a much less forgiving political stand-up routine.
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Like it or not so far on these debate stages, Jeb Bush has been relegated to playing the part of Dickie Smothers-Jack Lemmon-Bud Abbott-Gene Wilder-Bing Crosby-Dean Martin-Dan Aykroyd-Ollie Hardy all rolled into one.
Donald Trump toys with him at Bush's expense. Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio stands up to him when backed into a corner.
With the benefit of hindsight, I have decided Jeb Bush never should have entered this race until his party begged him. He should have recognized that he was going to be the establishment foil for all of the rest because of his last name and saved some money and political capital until all of the "outsiders," upstarts and would-be-kings had fallen under their own weight.
From the very start, Bush put everything and poured out everything for all to see — a pretty vanilla profile in a world that wants a new Ben & and Jerry's exotic. Branded as the establishment candidate, he has provided an easy, towering target that stands still and absorbs abuse like a high-tech towel.
Though I believe there is a good part of the electorate that loathes the specter of another Bush-Clinton race and the sense of heir ship in what is supposed to be a Republic where candidates are elected, not anointed by succession — there is only one way that match-up is still possible.
Bush's instinct is to fight and claw and get back in this thing. Instead, he should run quickly in the other direction. He should suspend his campaign and allow the others to duke it out over the next two months without him, the straight man, to be the target.
The Iowa Caucuses — which are apt to tap another theocrat — may not be worth the trouble. Bush should sit back and watch the pack from a perch until Republicans finally get to see the insides of some of the outsiders without the benefit of the contrast he supplies.
Bush's only chance is to finally become himself: be the only Republican who embraces things like Common Core and the kind of immigration reforms Americans need to heal. Be the fearless, bi-lingual/bi-partisan pragmatic guy who won't sell out the middle of the road to satisfy the screamers.
Let the extremists among the pack find a new straight man.