Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has entered into a much less “joyful” stage of his presidential campaign.
Bush did little to aid a struggling campaign during Wednesday night’s debate, in a performance that opened up new questions about the once-front-runner’s status in the race.
“Jeb Bush can eat carbs now,” quipped Matt Drudge, editor of The Drudge Report, in a reference to Bush’s Paleo diet.
Appearing on CNN afterward, Bush appeared rather exasperated. CNN’s Dana Bash asked him whether he was frustrated with his performance. He brushed aside the question, but he hinted he didn’t appreciate the questions or the amount of speaking time he received.
“Nope, not frustrated,” Bush said, grinning slightly.
“I wish I had gotten questions on, you know — got to answer questions on things that are on the minds of people, you know, entitlement challenges, the debt. I got fantasy football. That’s important I guess, but not as important as other things going on.”
When pressed by Bash about whether other candidates onstage outperformed him, Bush interjected.
“I’m running for president of the United States. I’m running with heart. I’m not a performer. If they’re looking for an entertainer-in-chief, I’m probably not your guy.”
Across the political spectrum, many pundits and analysts quickly agreed that Bush’s performance wouldn’t help his recently sagging poll numbers. He took on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) in a high-profile exchange about his Senate-attendance record. Rubio threw it back in Bush’s face, and the consensus was that Bush lost.
“Bush was MIA. Rubio won,” Republican strategist Liz Mair told Business Insider.
Steve Schmidt, a longtime GOP strategist and former senior advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), added on MSNBC: “Marco Rubio knocked Jeb Bush out tonight, flat on his butt. Worst day of the campaign for Jeb Bush since his announcement was tonight.”
Prominent conservative talk show host Erick Erickson told Business Insider that Bush’s attack on Rubio’s voting record was also unsuccessful because of the way Bush’s team telegraphed it would happen.
Bush’s campaign has knocked Rubio on the issue for weeks. And the super PAC supporting Bush even started a Twitter account Wednesday to troll Rubio on the issue. Earlier this week, one slide in a presentation to donors called Rubio a “GOP Obama.”
“I wasn’t surprised [Bush] went after Rubio. I was surprised he and his super PAC put up a big spotlight on the issue for a week before the debate giving Rubio ample time to prepare a rebuttal. That was the insane part,” Erickson said.
He added: “And Jeb clearly, clearly did not want to go there. Rubio did the worst thing possible to Jeb. He made Jeb look pitiful.”
The Rubio campaign didn’t hold back from rubbing salt in the wound.
Terry Sullivan, Rubio’s campaign manager, reportedly said in the post-debate “spin room” that he didn’t want to “pile on” Bush after his debate performance:
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting.
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