The second rule of presidential politics is never tell voters you’ve got something better to do.
Jeb Bush on Saturday: “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them.”
The third rule of presidential politics is never tell voters to vote for somebody else.
Jeb Bush: “That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
The fourth rule of presidential politics is politics today sucks. Deal with it.
Jeb Bush: “If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation.”
The scion of a very political family broke all the rules Saturday, including the one about never surrendering to a bully. A bully smells blood.
“Bush has no money,” Donald Trump, the billionaire celebrity TV star and GOP presidential front-runner, said Sunday. “He's meeting today with mommy and daddy, and they're working on his campaign.”
"He's a guy wants to run our country and he can't even run his own campaign,” Trump told a rally in Bush’s home state of Florida. “Think of it!”
In June, when Bush and his constituency in the Republican establishment were dismissing Trump, I called the brash New Yorker “a combed-over reflection of angry America.”
For the first time in the history of Gallup polling, approval ratings for the Democratic and Republican parties dipped below 40 percent. Most Americans say party leaders care more about themselves than the country. A study of voter turnout in the 2014 elections showed record lows in 15 of 25 states amid signs that voter discontent is an American epidemic.
In the 1990s, “swing voters” were all the rage. Since 2004, the political establishment has been infatuated with party-line or “base” voters. Trump is channeling a constituency that is as old as the republic and still flexes new muscle: “protest voters.”
He won’t be president. He won’t win the GOP nomination. Trump is a ratings-seeking celebrity, not a serious political leader. But he could become a vessel for anger, a man who like Ross Perot, George Wallace, Huey Long, and other protest candidates” seems made for these acerbic times.
I was wrong to rule out Trump winning the nomination or the presidency. A person like Trump, if not Trump himself, could become president in our lifetime, because of what I wrote next:
The political establishment can mock Trump, the person, but they shouldn’t underestimate what his candidacy represents. It’s an assault on the central and cynical premise of the two major parties, which is this: Politics is merely about winning, and the best way to win is to be seen as the least-awful alternative to a dwindling pool of voters …
America’s ruling duopoly, long corrupted by lobbyists and donors, clinging to government institutions that work for party interests rather than for an e-connected populace buffeted by change, has all but worn out its welcome. Even party-line voters, those who consistently side with Democrats or Republicans, increasingly identify as independents and are getting restless with their party homes.
The first rule of presidential politics is people get the last word – and word on the lips of most Americans is, “Enough!” We are as mad as we’ve ever been. We’re more empowered than we’ve ever been, thanks to the internet. And we’re as close as we’ve ever been to putting a disruptive populist in the White House.
I personally think Donald Trump would be a miserable president. He seems to be allergic to policy, civility, and the truth, a bundle of insecurities who appeals to the darker angels of our nature: Fear, bigotry, and vanity. “In Rome about a dozen years ago, I had a long dinner with Donald Trump,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in June. “Only his name was Silvio Berlusconi.”
Elect Trump if you want that, Bush tells us. He misses the point.
It’s not that Americans want a megalomaniac. We’re just tired of the establishment in both parties – weak, feckless leaders who’ve got something better to do.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.