On Wednesday night at a town hall in South Carolina, Jeb Bush tried out a new joke that raised some eyebrows.
While making a weird comparison between meteorological strength and the fortitude of State Senator Katrina Shealy (who has publicly endorsed Bush), he decided to give her a new moniker: Hurricane Katrina.
“When I was governor, in 16 months we had eight hurricanes and four tropical storms,” Bush said. “One of them was called Katrina. I don’t know why your great state senator reminds me of a hurricane. But she does. She’s strong and she’s fierce but she’s solving problems for you at the state capitol.”
For these reasons, Shealy earned the new title Bush had created for her.
“That should be your nickname. In the Bush family, we always give out nicknames. Yours is now Hurricane Katrina,” Bush concluded.
The rest of the night seemed to go better for the former governor as he picked up two endorsements from former supporters of Lindsey Graham, according to an email from his campaign. When asked for comment on this strange joke, Allie Brandenburger—a member of Bush’s communications team—just provided The Daily Beast with the transcript of the remarks.
Bush himself later emailed The Daily Beast saying, “It was a joke.”
When asked if he thought it was insensitive at all, he simply responded “No.”
Hurricane Katrina, of course, was arguably one of the lowest moments of his brother George W. Bush’s presidency, ravaging Louisiana and resulting in the deaths of nearly 2,000 people.
And as Bush tries to retool his troubled campaign in the remaining month before the first caucuses, he has been trying his hand at this sort of off-color humor. His campaign has shared memes of the candidate photoshopped from an image of him standing in front of a green screen (in one iteration, his finger is reaching out to touch god in a Michelangelo painting).
There may be bigger concerns for the Bush campaign than ill-fated jokes. On Wednesday, the campaign announced that they were canceling a $1 million TV ad buy in Iowa and a $2 million buy in South Carolina. Bush is polling in the single digits in both states. Instead, they are reallocating financial resources to adding staffers and making direct voter contact.
“This will give Jeb by far the largest paid ground operation in the first four states,” senior strategist David Kochel told The Des Moines Register about the jarring move.
But anyone who is following the 2016 campaign and the saga of the Bush campaign knows that this latest move is no laughing matter.