- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush kept plugging away in his struggling campaign Wednesday by hurling attacks at front-runner Donald Trump, but GOP strategists increasingly advise him to start thinking about getting out of the race.

Mr. Bush boasts a top-notch campaign organization and a hefty war chest, but his pathway to the nomination has narrowed dramatically as he lags far behind in the polls nationally and in early-voting states, including his home state of Florida, where he served as governor.

“No matter how you look at the numbers, it is difficult to imagine how he is going to win anywhere,” said Republican political consultant Michael McKenna. “Sometimes it’s time to go.”

Mr. Bush’s struggles have been all the more frustrating for the heir to the Bush dynasty because he’s watched Mr. Trump, a political neophyte, dominate the race despite — or perhaps because of — inflammatory and rough language that would have quickly derailed candidates in the past.

Mr. Bush entered the race as an establishment favorite and has refined that title. But in a cycle where voters are bucking political professionals and looking for a dramatic change to business-as-usual in Washington, he has been rendered the odd man out.

Mr. Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, summed up the sentiment in 2013 when she publicly cautioned her son against a White House run.

“We’ve had enough Bushes,” she said on NBC’s “Today,” though she said her son was the most qualified for the job. She changed her mind about another Bush presidency and endorsed her son’s candidacy in the runup to his announcing his bid to be the next president.

Mr. Bush has offered himself as the sober and steady alternative to the bombastic Mr. Trump, presenting studious foreign policy and economic prescriptions. Voters shrugged and left him languishing in distant fifth place in most polls, garnering about 5 percent support among Republican voters.

“I think he’s right on a lot of the issues,” said Mr. McKenna. “I wish him nothing but the best, but it’s time to leave.”

The Bush campaign has braced itself for finishing out of the top three in the first nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, hoping that his organization and finances will enable Mr. Bush to muscle to the front of the pack on Super Tuesday and other multistate primary elections.

Mr. McKenna said the Bush strategy resembled that of Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2008, when the former New York mayor bypassed early contests and concentrated on a big win in Florida.

Mr. Giuliani finished third in Florida, and soon after dropped out of the race.

Ted Hoff, a longtime Republican activist in Iowa, said that he understood Mr. Bush’s reluctance to drop out now, with no votes yet cast and plenty of time for jockeying in the crowded GOP field.

But voters’ thirst for an outside candidate would make it difficult for Mr. Bush to pick up supporters even if Mr. Trump’s campaign collapses, he said.

“He isn’t popular with that segment,” said Mr. Hoff. “Within 60 to 90 days he’ll probably be out of the race.”

Instead of Mr. Bush, voters looking for an anti-establishment candidate have demonstrated a willingness to go with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who have distinguished themselves as tea party champions, which qualifies them as outsiders in Washington.

The RealClearPolitics average of recent national polls showed Mr. Bush mired in fifth place with 5 percent among likely Republican voters. Mr. Trump led with 27 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 19 percent, Mr. Rubio at 12 percent and Mr. Cruz at 11 percent.

The rest of the candidates averaged in the low single digits.

Mr. Bush wouldn’t be the first governor to call it quits in the 2016 Republican presidential race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped out this year after struggling to gain traction.

Mr. Bush took jabs at Mr. Trump’s credibility Wednesday, saying his comments about American Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, showed that the billionaire businessman was not a “serious” candidate.

Voters would eventually have to decide if Mr. Trump is ready to “sit behind the big desk,” Mr. Bush said in an interview on Fox News.

“There wasn’t thousands and thousands of people cheering. That’s just not true,” he said. “This county was under attacks, and people were angry and they were in mourning, but there was no cheering.”

He blasted Mr. Trump for disrespecting 9/11 victims by creating an “alternative universe.”

Mr. Trump has refused to back down from his claim that he saw thousands of people cheering in Jersey City, New Jersey, when the twin towers collapsed despite several fact-checking organizations refuting his version of events.

After the attacks there were several news reports about police investigations into celebrations in Jersey City and nearby Paterson. But no evidence was found that the celebrations actually took place, according to PolitiFact, the online fact-checking project by the Tampa Bay Times.

Mr. Trump weathered criticism for the remark for several days. He scheduled a press conference for Monday, where he is expected to address the issue.

“Look, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Mr. Bush. “As it relates to Islamic terrorism, [he’s] gone from saying we don’t have a fight there, let Russia take out ISIS, let Russia take out [Syrian President Bashar Assad], and now his strategy is to bomb the [expletive] out of ISIS. That’s not a strategy. That’s not leadership. That’s not a serious approach to a hugely serious problem.”

Mr. Bush has advocated deploying U.S. troops into Iraq to fight the Islamic State and bolstering non-Islamist rebels to fight the Assad regime in Syria. He also proposed creating no-fly zones and safety zones to protect Syrian refugees.

He said that American voters would eventually have to make a decision about Mr. Trump’s qualifications to be president.

“They want someone who can sit behind the big desk with a spine and with a heart and with a brain to be able to lead the country in a much better direction than we’re going now,” said Mr. Bush. “I believe that I’m that guy.”

 


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