“If they’re looking for an entertainer in chief, I’m probably not the guy,” former frontrunner Jeb Bush confessed to CNN, minutes after the third Republican debate. After three poor debate performances, Bush understandably wishes to minimize the importance of these encounters. And he has a point. It’s hard to imagine Dwight Eisenhower doing well under the artificial and often absurd conventions of televised debate. What’s lethal for Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions, however, is not the mere fact that he underwhelms on the debate stage, but the particular reasons he underwhelms—these five perhaps above all.
Jeb Bush is chronically unstrategic.
He arrived at both the second and third debates with plans of attack against his chief rivals of the moment: Donald Trump last time, Marco Rubio this time. Both times, he failed to anticipate and prepare for the most obvious opponent reaction. What followed were humiliating climb-downs by Bush.
“Apologize to my wife!”
“Resign from the Senate!”
Jeb Bush does not improvise.
His confrontation with Marco Rubio did not have to end badly for him. When Marco Rubio brushed off criticism of Rubio’s absenteeism from the Senate by invoking John McCain, Bush could have hit back hard. “Seriously Marco? You’re comparing yourself to John McCain? McCain is an American hero, he’s chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he created the 9/11 commission, he’s written more laws than you’ve read. The problem is not just that you’re away a lot ... the problem is that you don’t do anything even when you’re there. Frankly, you’ve never done anything.” Then—sticking the knife in—“Why Marco, you even failed to pass the immigration amnesty deal you co-wrote with Chuck Schumer.”