The news last night was aflutter with the fact that Jeb Bush’s campaign is over; he is no longer in the running for the GOP nominee for President in the 2016 race. It took perhaps two hours for the media to set upon his still warm corpse for the last bit of sustenance that his campaign could provide their hungry news cycles with articles discussing his flubs, detailing his downfall, and—perhaps most painfully—listing his saddest moments. It’s weird to have gotten to watch his flame-out in more-or-less real time.
Lest you forget, Bush was all but a certainty. Prior to the actual start of debates and primaries—think back a year or so ago—Bush was the front-runner and it was more or less assumed that we could count on the final race being a rehash of Bush vs Clinton with the possibility of the independent disruptor (in the form of a not-yet-entirely-batshit Trump) having the same impact as back in 1992. Now, a year later, things could not have gone more sideways for the Bush dynasty.
You can get a pretty good feel for why this happened if you go back and revisit the January debates. To refresh your memory, January was when the undercard claimed all but the 6 we’ve been following since (Paul managed to kick and scream his way back onto the main stage once more, but by January, his name was indelibly inked onto a placecard at the loser’s table), and those 6 turned on each other in a particularly nasty way.
It was at the earliest January debate that you can initially see the disbelief in Bush’s eyes when he is, for the first time, really the target of Trump’s rhetoric. Nothing in his political career had prepared him for this—this wasn’t the game that the GOP had created over the last decade, this was something altogether different. As this particular effect recurred in debate after debate, you could see the betrayal in Bush’s eyes.
“I’m playing by the rules,” his eyes scream, “you should be siding with me!”
He failed to notice that the rules had shifted. We’ll come back to the look in his eyes in a moment, but first, a brief historical recap:
In 1992, when David Duke–a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan–attempted a run for President, it was a response to the success that issues like welfare, crime within the black community, and white displacement had in helping hand Bush (George H. W., that is) a win over Dukakis. This set the rules for using quiet racism and classism for votes: you can do it, but you can’t do it overtly. GOP candidates, if they are to be successful, must use careful codes…
We don’t hate immigrants, but we are “taking back America for real Americans” and defending against “illegal aliens.”
We don’t call out crime as a black problem, but we do deplore “urban” crime or “thuggish” teens in the “inner city.”
We don’t applaud white nationalism or white supremacy, but we do wave a confederate flag around while discussing “state’s rights.”
We don’t say that we hate poor people, but we do characterize them as “takers” and discuss “welfare queens” and “food stamps”—the latter relying on a very real reaction to the “sort of people who need food stamps” despite the term being both dated and inaccurate.
These dog-whistles are the RULE, and they are the rule for a reason; they have, for decades, allowed a white population to vent their xenophobia, their nationalism, and yes, their racism in small bursts at the ballot box each election cycle while still feeling good about themselves and how progressive they are compared to their slave-owning ancestors. These euphemisms have been essential to the steady grind toward the extreme right that the GOP has been taking since the days of Reagan.
These concepts got Bush (George W.) elected in 2000 and again in 2004—not alone, for sure there were additional factors; notably the addition of fear-mongering and jingoism to a degree that I have only read about in tales regarding embattled banana republics—and it appeared to be the new normal for the Republican party.
What Bush (we’re back to Jeb here) didn’t notice was that during his brother’s administration, the tectonic plates forming the GOP’s platform had shifted right-ward yet again. The constant, unrelenting pressure of “subtle” racism, of hate-mongering against “muslims jihadists”, the fanning of the flames against the “takers”–all of this was suddenly brought to a crescendo when it became apparent that hundreds of years of inequity between men and women and between whites and everyone else within this country were sliding toward equity.
Back to Bush’s eyes.
If you watch those debates—especially starting in January, you can see how confused and shocked that Bush is in every reaction shot. He’s following the rules, and the people openly flouting them are APPLAUDED, they are CHEERED, and they PULL AHEAD. He uses his code words, he doesn’t overtly attack his opponents, and he attempts to at least appear to answer questions about policy—and he was losing in a big way.
The depressing part, from the perspective of the moderately sane member of the audience, is that we were able to watch the downfall of a genuinely honorable guy. Make no mistake, his policies were deplorable and his point of view is—charitably—classist to the extreme, but this is a guy who was witnessing what he had to do in order to turn his tremendous cash expenditure into a presidency. All he had to do was ignore his principles and join the rabble. He even had moments where he dipped his toe in those waters.
Ultimately, he decided he couldn’t do it. He, in honorable fashion, fell on his sword rather than use it in a way that he perceived as dishonorable. You have to respect that, even if you don’t respect his views; death before dishonor, and all of that.
That was the Jeb that we witnessed for the last month. The defeated, slumped shouldered wretch that didn’t have it in his heart to become the demagogue that his party now hungrily seeks. The Jeb that canceled his campaign last night might be the last vestige of the GOP that I understood when I joined their ranks in the late 90s.
No matter what your affiliation, that cannot be seen as a good thing.
Well, I suppose if you’re a white nationalist, it’s not all bad.