Jeb Bush Turns Up The Heat On Trump, But Can It Fire Up His Lukewarm Campaign?

24/12/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 7:42 PM IST
Donald Trump, left, responds forcefully to Jeb Bush (not seen) as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

For several months, Jeb Bush's campaign has been going downhill. Viewed as an establishment candidate, which is clearly not the flavour of the season, his campaign has been criticised or lacking a central theme while his performance in GOP debates until recently have been labelled as lacklustre. The latest ABC News/Washington poll and Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus figures show Jeb Bush's support touching record lows of 5% and 6.5% respectively. This is a significant drop from 21% support registered by Jeb Bush in March 2015.

Despite harsh criticism of his outspoken comments on immigration and terrorism, Donald Trump continues to advance in the GOP nomination race with double-digit figures of 38% support. The survey has also put Senator Ted Cruz from Texas in second place with 15% support and Ben Carson and Marco Rubio tied for the third place. Governor Bush is trailing behind with a meagre 5% support among registered Republicans. While these popularity ratings make Jeb Bush's prospects to win the GOP nomination seem bleak, speculations are rife on whether he will be able to make a final comeback.

He specifically contrasted himself with Trump, promising that he "will be commander in chief, not agitator in chief, or divider in chief."

One of the central issues debated on 15 December during the final GOP debate in Las Vegas was terrorism and the fight against ISIS, especially in the backdrop of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. At the outset, Jeb Bush mentioned American exceptionalism and highlighted his two-pronged approach of addressing issues that are confronting American society. He stated that his priorities include building a strong military and safeguarding America's security, but he also launched a sustained and aggressive attack on Donald Trump. He specifically contrasted himself with Trump, promising that he "will be commander in chief, not agitator in chief, or divider in chief." On the matter of Donald Trump's comments on banning all non-American Muslims in the US, Bush cogently articulated why alienating Muslims would be counter-productive to the efforts of defeating the ISIS.

At the heart of Jeb Bush's political and military strategy against ISIS is exterminating the influence of the Islamic State in the Caliphate. He elaborated that arming the Kurds, ensuring safe zones for refugees and embedding forces inside the Iraqi military would be instrumental to such military efforts. As all these strategies needs to be done in concert with the Arab nations, banning all non-American Muslims is only going to be a self-defeating strategy. The Kurds being the greatest fighting force on the ground are important partners for the US in its fight against ISIS and hence, American engagement with the Arab world needs to be strengthened. Isolating Muslims works against this goal, he said.

While political analysts acknowledged Jeb Bush's strong debate performance in Las Vegas, it would be interesting to note whether his proposed policies resonated with registered Republicans. So far, it appears unlikely that Jeb Bush's admittedly riveting debate performance alone can reverse the damage his campaign has already suffered unless he also manages to plug the gaps on the drastic slash of campaign spending, across-the-board pay cuts for staff, cutting travel costs by 20% and focusing more narrowly on early states. These issues have been significant setbacks for Jeb Bush's campaign although he has said that these moves will allow his campaign to stay "lean and mean" and allow him to retain his "ability to adapt".

[S]olely dwelling on hurting Trump's image can prove detrimental to Jeb Bush's already dwindling campaign.

While Bush's campaign funding slowed in the last few months, on the brighter side, his super PAC remains heavily funded. He reportedly collected $13.4 million between 1 July and 30 September. The unexpected rise of unorthodox candidate Donald Trump has pulled attention away from serious contenders and genuine debate on policy issues. Most of the GOP presidential nomination hopefuls have been largely preoccupied with criticising Trump for his frivolous comments or decrying the incumbent President Barack Obama and his former Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner candidate. This has added to the sharp criticism of Democrat GOP candidates of hurling accusations and moving away from the real issues.

Jeb Bush's performance in which he exposed Trump's inconsistent rhetoric on important military issues such as fighting ISIS was praiseworthy. However, solely dwelling on hurting Trump's image can prove detrimental to Jeb Bush's already dwindling campaign. In spite of Trump's favourable poll ratings, it is important to note that poll numbers have little or no bearing on how the primaries shape up. Hence, Jeb Bush's focus on smart strategies to deal with 21st-century challenges such as climate change, immigration reforms, rise of emerging powers, asymmetrical and hybrid security threats would find more traction among informed Republican voters. In addition to this, Bush's efforts to improve his public image and increase his political capital have led him to hire famous media coach and political consultant - Jon Kraushar. Perhaps he can help fix Bush's "Jeb Can Fix It" campaign.

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