Saturday, November 7, 2015

4 Things Jeb Still Needs To Fix

What needs to happen going forward for Bush to turn around the declining poll numbers.

Brian Blanco / Getty Images

SOMERSWORTH, New Hampshire — Jeb may be able to fix it, but he hasn't yet.

That fact was plainly evident at the final stop of Jeb Bush's meta comeback tour this week, as the besieged Republican candidate strained to persuade a modest roomful of voters here that his new campaign rallying cry — "Jeb can fix it" — stood for something more than too-cute sloganeering.

"I've seen some really interesting machines," Bush told the audience after touring a medical device manufacturing facility. "I bet they break down once in a while. Oh my god, you've gotta fix it. You've gotta transform. You've gotta get new customers. You have to retool and use the great skills that you have to be able to provide the highest quality service, or they'll go elsewhere. It's a challenging time for sure and you have to adapt."

He intended for this riff to serve as a metaphor for his problem-solving gubernatorial record in Florida, but the 2016 symbolism was hard to miss. Bush's presidential campaign is the broken-down machine — and he is now scrambling with adapt-or-die urgency to win back his fleeing "customers" before it's too late.

Yet, even after a week of uncharacteristically shouty campaigning ("We're gonna win this damn thing!" he proclaimed in Florida; "We're Americans dammit!" he yelled in New Hampshire), and even after baring his soul at length ("I've learned to accept ... that I'm imperfect under God's watchful eye," he mused to a bus full of reporters), many of the same crucial defects that have plagued his candidacy remain.

To achieve the "comeback narrative" he's been urging reporters to write, Bush will need to find a way to fix these problems soon.

The debate problem

The debate problem

Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

Though Bush was already struggling in the polls when he arrived onstage at the GOP debate in Colorado last month, his badly botched attack on Marco Rubio in front of 14 million viewers was arguably the moment that commenced the campaign "death watch" in the eyes of the national press. The post-debate prognoses were swift and almost universally grim.

"Bush seemed gutted, pallid—a ghost rising spectrally from a car crash, looking down on the wreckage below," John Heilemann wrote at Bloomberg Politics.

"Jeb Bush can eat carbs now," Matt Drudge pithily pronounced on Twitter.

But Bush's onstage flub wasn't an outlier. He has been listless and inartful at every one of this year's unusually high-profile debates. For a politician who's been popularly characterized (unfairly or not) as the "smart Bush" for the better part of two decades, these performances have seemed especially underwhelming.

Bush's campaign is aware of this, which is why they hired media coach Josh Kraushar — a veteran image-maker and contemporary of Fox News chief Roger Ailes — to hone the candidate's TV chops. According to New York Magazine, however, some in Bush's orbit question how coachable he will be when it comes to the sort of superficialities in which the consultant specializes. (One small example: Bush has steadfastly refused to swap out his glasses for contact lenses, despite repeated encouragement from some advisers.)

Bush's aides and allies know it's unlikely that such trivial matters will change the shape of the 2016 race on their own; and no one is banking on a single breakout debate to turn things around for Jeb. But to escape the hamster-wheel of grueling news cycles in which he is currently stuck, the candidate will probably need to exceed expectations at next week's Fox Business Network debate.

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