As soon as the picture became clear of the Republican South Carolina primary, Jeb Bush, once the frontrunner of the Republican race, announced the end of his campaign to be the 45th President of the United States.
Jeb Bush came into the contest with many advantages: a slew of political endorsements, a massive campaign bank account, name recognition, and respectable experience as governor of Florida.
Yet son of the 41st president and brother of the 43rd did not even make it to Super Tuesday, on March 1st. In fact the whole campaign was a bit of a disaster. Consider Iowa, where he vastly outspent his rivals per vote received.
Here’s a quick rundown of what went so badly wrong for Jeb Bush.
Trump, and anti-Trump strategy
The single biggest reason for Jeb’s downfall can be explained in one word: Trump.
Trump, and to a lesser extent Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, unleashed waves of populist, anti-establishment feeling among grass roots conservatives. Jeb was the wrong man to cater to this crowd: the ‘Bush’ label is about as establishment as it gets.
The Bush candidacy was supposed to signal a movement of Republican politics past the radicalism of the Tea Party. Unfortunately for Jeb, four more years of Barack Obama seem to have only inflamed the populist rage at the base of the party.
While Bush gradually developed a better strategy to deal with the billionaire real estate mogul, simply recognising the real threat that Trump offered took far too long. In the early weeks of the campaign Bush’s campaign largely chose to ignore the vitriol coming from Trump on immigration and race, perhaps supposing the ‘Summer of Trump’ was bound to fizzle out.
Instead, Trump’s ‘low energy’ attack on Jeb stuck, and armed with impressive poll numbers the businessman continued to berate and bully Jeb on the debate stage.
That said, it is hard to imagine that even had the Bush staffers had understood the real competition of Donald Trump earlier that the situation would be much different.
His experience didn’t pay off
Jeb Bush drove a campaign that celebrated responsible, measured leadership, and pointed to his career as governor of Florida as evidence of his experience. Unfortunately for Jeb, this did not resonate with the base of the Republican party.
Knowledge of government and accomplishments in public service proved to be less attractive this year than the appeal of brash, ‘outsider’ style politics. Many conservative Americans don’t want a tempered, steady brand of leadership: they want someone just to shake the whole damn system until it reboots and things start working again.
None of the governors in the Republican contest have done well: only John Kasich of Ohio remains, with Jeb Bush of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Perry of Texas all suspending their campaigns.
Poor debate performances
In a fractious and tumultuous Republican field, Jeb singularly failed to rise above the muck-racking, squabbling, and petty insults.
Bush was rarely able to find his uplifting voice, one that could propose a stirring, optimistic vision for America. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, has been in the trenches warring against Ted Cruz and Chris Christie , yet retained the ability to find moments in debates for his soaring rhetoric, calling for a ‘New American Century’.
Part of the reason Trump’s ‘low energy’ patronising barb stung so badly was that it was true. Jeb would tangle with Trump, before being sheepishly swept away as Trump batted him down by referencing polling numbers. When Jeb tried to attack Marco Rubio for his voting record in the Senate, he was quickly rebuffed and left awkwardly scanning the stage.
While Jeb Bush came across as an affable, capable candidate, he was drowned out in the debates.
Bush did little to help himself at times, making gaffes that fundamentally undermined his appeal as the steady, considered candidate.
Early on his response to a mass shooting was “stuff happens”, and his “anchor babies” comment concerning immigrants may have damaged his reputation with hispanics. Most damning was his initial confusion, then walk-back, over the question of the Iraq War and his brother’s strategy blunted his authority when talking about the Middle East.
As the campaign began to list helplessly, Bush was left asking one audience in New Hamsphire to ‘please clap’, embracing a swing voter who claimed he was pulling for Jeb, and being bumped off the stage of a rotary club seemingly mid-speech. Too soon Jeb became a pathetic figure, not an inspiring one.
Of course, the gaffes themselves did not cause Jeb’s campaign to crash, but with the chaos of the Republican field and towering media presence of Donald Trump the type of campaign Jeb Bush wanted to run needed to be near-perfect in its execution.
So long, Jeb.