I have on my refrigerator a picture of a forlorn dog, one ear flopped over, with the message inscribed, DON’T BLAME ME – I VOTED TO TAKE A WALK.
That covers the 2012 presidential election. But for 2016 I think my canine friend will have a lot of company; that is, voters opting to take a walk rather than choose among the most uninspiring lot of candidates for high office I can remember since my adolescent days when more than a dozen would-be governors of Louisiana traveled the state, including one aptly described as “a voice in the bayou whose actual existence has yet to be proved.” (A fair description, come to think of it, of the current governor of Louisiana’s presidential campaign.)
Having once worked for George Bush the Elder, I held out hope that Jeb Bush might fill in as a serious entry. But given Jeb’s baffling performance of recent days that hope has gone the way of all optimism this political season.
Best known is his stumbling on whether he’d have followed his brother George’s course of invading Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. On that point Jeb took 24 hours to backtrack, saying he’d misheard the question. But though the political press has zeroed in on that gaffe because it happened on Fox, an upside of the interview was that it drew attention away from his answer to a question asked 48 hours before – one he didn’t mishear. From the Washington Post of May 7, under the headline JEB BUSH: BROTHER A TOP ADVISER ON ISRAEL:
“After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former President George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy . . . ‘If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,’ Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club.”
Right. A crowd of high-powered investors, a majority of whom were ardent pro-Israel New York Republicans. The question asked was whether Jeb sought advice from former secretary of state Jim Baker. One would think that would be easy to answer, since Baker is a longtime Bush family friend who played a major role in getting both Jeb’s father and brother to the White House.
But wait: Because Baker strongly opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank when he was secretary of State – and still does – he is widely unpopular among pro-Israel Jewish Republicans, whereas brother George W., because he went to war against Israel’s foremost enemy, is wildly popular.
Call this Jeb Bush’s low-road moment of pander: distancing himself from friend and supporter Jim Baker and embracing “Mission Accomplished” George – all to massage a “high-powered investor” audience.
Jeb, keep in mind, was until now considered by many to be the best political mind of all the Bushes (with the possible exception of his mother, who didn’t think he should run). But with his opponents working overtime to tie him to his brother’s legacy, he suddenly does it for them. Why? Simple answer: Murphy’s Law took effect.
No, not the one that tells us “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong” – though that too would seem to apply to Jeb’s campaign – but Mike Murphy’s Law, the low-road opportunism seen in Republican campaigns managed by the professional handler running Jeb’s.
It was once said that the best way to determine what kind of president a nominee would make was by the caliber of his first real decision – the choice of a vice presidential running mate. Update that for the 21st century: It’s his choice of a professional campaign strategist who’ll help him get elected. Once those strategists were dedicated personal staffers, like Roosevelt’s Louis Howe; today they’re political privateers like Murphy, who moves from campaign to campaign, working for the highest bidder.
And what does the strategist who advised Jeb Bush to stroke the high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club have to recommend him as a political adviser to put a third Bush in the White House?
Just this: A New York Times story of a decade ago that describes him as a “GOP attack dog,” detailing his propensity to reach the lowest common denominator in communicating a campaign message. For example, advising Rick Lazio in 2000 to stalk across a debate stage and thrust a no-tax pledge in his opponent’s face, demanding that she sign it.
That attack-dog move, as New York voters recall, proved the defining moment in Lazio’s Murphy-run campaign, the one that assured Hillary Clinton’s election to the U.S. Senate.
Not to overlook Murphy’s masterminding Oliver North’s failed U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia, Meg Whitman’s embarrassing (but expensive) run for governor in California or, on the presidential level, his handling of Lamar Alexander’s losing campaign for the White House in 1996 as well as John McCain’s in 2000.
Of his role in the McCain campaign, the following item from the Washington Post sheds added light on the generating influence of Murphy’s Law:
Not incidentally, reported the New York Times in July 2000, “Mr. Murphy is also known for painting himself a central character in his endeavors. ‘Mike has a tendency of taking credit for things he only observed,’ said John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s political director, who was enraged when Mr. Murphy disclosed months of McCain campaign secrets for an article that cast Mr. Murphy as a star.”
This is the choice, of all available choices, that Jeb Bush made to direct his presidential campaign in the year 2016. Barbara was right. Given that kind of judgment, Jeb shouldn’t have run.
Sound bites to remember
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
–German Field-marshal Helmut von Moltke, circa 1870
“Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”
–Mike Tyson, circa 1980