Exit Strategery

Jeb Bush Should Face Facts: It’s Time to Drop Out

Jeb, this isn’t working. You’re a bad candidate, and all you’re going to do now is damage the guy who can beat Trump. Is that what you want?

10.06.15 5:15 AM ET

Jeb, this just isn’t going to work. After all that money spent, you’re still sagging nationally and in fourth place in New Hampshire, a state you need to win.

You’ve had nearly a year to make your case. It isn’t working. You should pack it in.

The conventional wisdom a few months ago was that your brother’s catastrophic presidency would be your bid’s biggest hurdle. Now, in a fit of desperation, it looks like you’re about to draft him to stump for you. Putting aside that George W. is still despised by a not-insignificant swath of the Republican electorate, how is that going to play in the general should you somehow win the nomination? You’re making the Democrats’ job easy, Jeb. They’ll be more than happy to attach you to his legacy, and you’re doing that for them.

Speaking of the Democrats, we know what will happen if you drag this out through next spring. The going thinking right now is that the guys really low in the polls—your Rand Pauls and George Patakis—should be next to drop out. But what damage do they do to the GOP by staying in? You Bushes, meanwhile, for all your patrician aloofness, are some of the dirtiest campaigners out there, and every jab you get in at your fellow establishmentarians like Marco Rubio is going to be used against them by the left. It’s one thing to toughen up a nominee in a primary fight—it’s another to make them damaged goods, unready to lead. If you’ve got some golden piece of oppo that will take Rubio or John Kasich out of consideration, by all means use it now. Otherwise, time to step aside.

Electability has always been the central rationale of your candidacy. We’re reminded it’s been more than 30 years since a Republican outside the Bush family won the presidency. In 2000, your brother was able to make the case that he was the strongest candidate to take on the Democrats, particularly after he dragged John McCain’s name through the mud.

But your brother was an able campaigner, and you are not. The polls showed he had a particularly good chance of winning back the White House; the same can’t really be said of you. And again, he was a disaster as president. You were doing a decent job of shedding all that baggage, but now that’s he’s joining you on the campaign trail, you’re going to be shouldering all of it. And not for nothing, but your principal strategist, Mike Murphy, does have the distinction of being the only 2016 guru to have already run against Hillary and lost.

And even if your brother wasn’t a nincompoop, Jeb, you’re doing a fine job of messing this up on your own. You’ve already had more than your fair share of flubs. That “stuff happens” quote may have initially been taken out of context by the media, but guess what: Running for president, particularly when you’re a Republican, means dealing with a hostile press. You will not always be treated fairly, you will rarely be given the benefit of the doubt. Contrast your statement with Rubio’s nearly perfect response to a question about Black Lives Matter that was making the rounds on Twitter last week, and you see why Republicans worry about you leading the party through 2016.

Let’s also look at the effect your dropping out would have on the frontrunner, Donald Trump. If you leave the race, it would allow the anti-Trump wing of the party to rally around someone else while also depriving Trump of his most reliable punchline, which is of course your candidacy. Given that Trump winning the nomination could foreseeably lead to the dissolution of the Republican Party, it would be a great act of loyalty if you were to cut him down by ending your campaign.

And that’s the story you can tell if you get out soon, Jeb. Your exit could be portrayed as a strategic retreat in a larger war for the GOP. You were the adult, you put ambition aside and saved your country and your party from Donald Trump. For the rest of your life, people will come up to you and tell you that you were the best president this country never had. You’ll be the premier elder statesman of the GOP, the man who retired gracefully instead of going through the expense of losing ugly.

Plus, you will have saved this country from the disheartening spectacle of another Bush vs. Clinton race. Nobody in America wants to see that weirdo dynastic power struggle play out. We’ll all appreciate you for not putting us through that.

Yeah, OK, “elder statesman” isn’t the best runner-up prize in the world. And yes, this campaign must have been very frustrating. You were a solid governor, Jeb. You knew how to handle a natural disaster, whereas George did not. You knew how to keep spending in check, whereas George did not. Had you not lost your first gubernatorial race in 1994, things could have been different. Instead, you lost, while your brother won in Texas.

And that must suck, Jeb, but pride and regret are not good reasons to stay in the race. Yes, you can point to other eventual nominees who were losing at this point in the race, notably John McCain in 2008. (The eventual nominees in 2000 and 2012, George Bush and Mitt Romney, were both leading their respective fields by now, although Romney would sometimes come in second place in the months that followed.)

Your problems go well beyond polling, though. For starters, you don’t seem to want the job. You’re not as politically adroit as others in the race—a charge that could never be made against McCain. And by using all that cash you’ve raised to tear down the other plausible nominees while simultaneously reminding everyone of your brother’s failed presidency, your continued presence on the campaign trail will likely wind up helping the other side.

So just go home, Jeb. There’s no dishonor in leaving politics behind.