By Gail Collins
New York Times
Let's discuss Jeb Bush's terrible week.
I'm really troubled by his awful performances, and I'm generally a person who takes bad news about politicians pretty well. For instance, a friend just sent me a story about the Texas agriculture commissioner's vow to bring deep-fried foods back to school cafeterias. ("It's not about French fries; it's about freedom.") I would classify this as interesting yet somehow not a shocking surprise.
But today we're talking about Jeb Bush. As a presidential hopeful, Bush's most attractive feature was an aura of competence. Extremely boring competence, perhaps. Still, an apparent ability to get through the day without demonstrating truly scary ineptitude.
Then, about a week ago, The Washington Post reported that during a private meeting with rich Manhattan financiers, Bush announced that his most influential adviser on Middle Eastern matters was his brother George.
This was a surprise on many fronts. For one thing, Jeb had apparently missed the memo on how everything you say to potential donors at private meetings can wind up on an endless YouTube loop for all eternity.
Also, he had begun his all-but-announced campaign for the presidency with an "I'm my own man" sales pitch. Now he was saying, in effect, "Well, I can always ask my brother."
Then, on Monday, Fox News aired an interview in which host Megyn Kelly asked Jeb whether "knowing what we know now" he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq.
"I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody," Bush replied.
Now no one, including Hillary Clinton's worst enemy in the entire world, thinks that if she could go back in time to 2002, knowing that the invasion of Iraq was going to be a total disaster and that she would lose the presidential nomination in 2008 to a guy who ran on that very issue, she would still have voted to authorize the use of force. So, obviously, Bush misheard the question, right?
Apparently not. He then went on: "I mean, so just for the news flash to the world if they're trying to find places where there's big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those."
We had now learned that: 1) Jeb Bush still thinks invading Iraq was a good idea; and 2) he has inherited more of the family syntax issues than we knew.
Fast-forward one day: "I interpreted the question wrong, I guess," Bush told Sean Hannity in a radio interview. "I was talking about given what people knew then, would you have done it, rather than knowing what we know now. And knowing what we know now, you know, clearly there were mistakes."
He still didn't claim that he'd have done anything different than his brother had done. ("That's a hypothetical.") But he was really nailing down that business about mistakes.
Then Bush was off to Nevada, campaigning in his own special way. ("I'm running for president in 2016, and the focus is going to be about how we, if I run, how do you create high sustained economic growth.")
He also announced that hypothetical questions were a "disservice" to the U.S. troops and their families.
What is going on here? It's not actually about foreign policy. Jeb Bush clearly knows nothing whatsoever about foreign policy, but then neither do the majority of other Republican presidential hopefuls.
The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn't keep his "I'm-my-own-man" mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn't know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.
This is obviously a problem for the Bush camp, but it's a big one for the nation's army of concerned citizens, too. There are lots of Americans who are not going to vote Republican next year but who nevertheless have found some comfort in the idea that Jeb Bush would almost certainly be the Republican nominee.
They might disagree with him on a lot of issues, but at least he wasn't Ted Cruz. "I'm a fan of Jeb Bush," Cruz said cruelly, when asked about the Iraq incident. "I'll give him credit for candor and consistency."
If the version of Jeb Bush we've been seeing lately is the one we're going to be stuck with, then one of the other Republican contenders is going to win. Maybe the guy who thinks Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery. Or the guy who once linked vaccines to children with mental disorders. The guy who used to peddle a "Diabetes Solution Kit." The guy with the bridge traffic jam!
Right now, you know, it's all hypothetical.