Can Jeb Rise?

Bush must attack Trump and appeal to voter frustration in debate.

Today: Jeb Bush

BOB: There have been two big surprises in this year’s Republican nomination battle: Donald Trump and the failure of Jeb Bush to get any traction among voters. In Bush’s defense, 2016 is the wrong year for an establishment favorite to do well with a Republican voting base that is solidly anti-Washington. But it’s not only the atmosphere and timing that is Bush’s problem. It’s Bush himself. He does not campaign well, debate well or connect well. Other than that …

CAL: Like Hillary Clinton in 2008, Bush was seen as inevitable in 2016. He has the money, the organization, the name recognition, but one thing he lacks: support from voters. According to Sunday’s CBS News/YouGov poll, Jeb is the fifth choice of Iowa caucus voters, with whom he registers at just 6%. He’s third in New Hampshire at 8%. Last week, Jeb cut the size of his staff to save money. His dad, the 41st president, once referred to momentum as “Big Mo.” Jeb’s campaign has been more like “slow mo.” It’s not the direction any candidate wants to be heading with fewer than 100 days before the first votes are cast in Iowa.

BOB: In South Carolina last weekend, Jeb finally took the gloves off against Donald Trump after serving as Trump’s punching bag for several months. By all reports, it was his best campaign appearance yet. I think he waited too long to come back at Trump. He needs to carry the same fire into Wednesday’s debate if he has any hope of picking up support and blunting Trumpism.

CAL: While it’s true Jeb had an outstanding record as governor of Florida — a record even some Democrats praise — this election isn’t about anyone’s record. Voters are fed up with both parties and the dysfunction in Washington. In order for Jeb to rise, he’s going to have to sympathize and identify with that anger. He could include a swipe at Trump, but in this third GOP debate, Bush must rise above the sniping and present himself as a stable and proven leader in an unstable world where we don’t need people without experience as president.

BOB: Jeb has developed a number of good policy proposals in this campaign, which have been virtually ignored by the news media, the activists and the Republican base. Trump and the other leader, Ben Carson, have not only failed to produce serious policy proposals but also have consistently said things that make no sense and underscore their lack of experience.

CAL: Jeb should present a covenant with the American people.

BOB: Meaning?

CAL: A covenant has theological implications that are stronger than a contract. A covenant speaks to the integrity of the one making it and holds the maker to a higher standard. Bush should present a list of things he guarantees to do as president. The list would include his type of Supreme Court justices, reducing the size and cost of government, rebuilding the military, reforming Social Security and Medicare to preserve them for generations to come, and cutting taxes. With smaller government, less money would be needed, and the debt could be reduced. Such a covenant might help Jeb leap ahead of Trump and Carson, whose campaigns have lacked specifics.

BOB: That may be exactly the prescription Bush needs, but he cannot pull back on pressuring Trump. History demonstrates that front-runners in the polls one year before a presidential election tend to fade quickly if their policy positions are not convincing. It was eight years ago at this same time that Rudy Giuliani was the GOP front-runner. Carson has received little criticism after calling for the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid. That’s an opening for Jeb Wednesday night. So is Trump’s refusal, or inability, to present a serious and specific foreign policy.

CAL: Conservatives have rightly vented their anger at establishment Republicans. Now it’s time to focus on who can beat Clinton. The establishment got their nominees — John McCain and Mitt Romney — in the last two presidential elections. Republicans need a genuine and credible conservative. If Jeb can promote school choice, especially for poor children, and a sensible immigration policy that will first secure the border and then deal with the millions who came to the U.S. illegally — restricting their right to vote and making them wait for at least a decade before they are allowed to apply for citizenship — that could persuade enough conservatives to vote for him. If not, and if he doesn’t perform well at the debate, he could be toast.

BOB: It’s increasingly clear to me that his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, is emerging as a better general election candidate than Jeb. Bush has increased criticism of his former protégé, but with little to show for it so far. What Bush and/or Rubio need to do at the debate is begin focusing on who is best positioned to defeat Clinton.

CAL: And that would be?

BOB: Bush, Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, because for Democrats to win the presidency as the last two cycles have shown, they must win Florida, Ohio or both. A ticket that includes one of the Florida candidates — or even better Kasich and one of the Floridians — would present a formidable challenge to Hillary Clinton.