“Is it all about Donald Trump?” I asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the morning of Thanksgiving Eve.
“It is about leadership skills,” the former front-runner in the race for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination replied. “Over time, people will see that he’s not a serious man,” Bush concluded about the new front-runner Trump.
We will see. I asked Bush about senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as well and about the security dynamic reshaping the race in real time. (The audio and transcript of the entire interview is posted at HughHewitt.com.)
The race shifted on its axis in the bloody carnage of Paris and the attacks that followed in Mali and Tunisia, as well as with the worldwide travel advisory issued by the State Department. The shootdown of a Russian fighter-bomber by NATO member Turkey did nothing to change the race’s upheaval as American voters look for …. well, someone not named Barack Obama.
As Jeb Bush and I were talking, President Obama wrapped up his substance-free parade of aides in the Roosevelt Room, intended to assure Americans that everything was buttoned-down in the United States, but which sent exactly the opposite message.
The President’s absurdist rhetoric and outbursts on his travels abroad had deeply damaged confidence in his leadership, and distance from the U.S. seemed to deafen his already hard-of-hearing public opinion staff. Back on American soil, the President must have been briefed on just how badly he had bungled the post-massacre moments of national worry with partisan broadsides and endless scolding of Americans who are simply worried for their families’ safety.
Thus the Wednesday AM theater in the Roosevelt Room, but too late. The President is the lamest of ducks and every iteration of the crises he has sown makes that abundantly clear. As a guest on Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union” this past Sunday, I remarked that the Obama presidency is down to five words now: “leading from behind,” “jayvees,” and “contained.” This is the essence of his faculty lounge presidency and it’s surreal view of America’s role in the world.
It has not worked. It does not inspire. It may have already doomed Hillary of Arabia’s campaign, given the chaos she thrust upon Libya and the aftermath of her Russian reset button presentation. American voters, it seems, want American leadership and American exceptionalism espoused by the American president.
But what sort of leadership and in what key? Trump and Bush present different ends of the political range on the center-right, and it isn’t clear either that Trump’s approach can endure or that Bush’s can stage a comeback. There is a middle pitch between the two and, as I pointed out to Bush, the two candidates seeming to surge right now as Dr. Carson fades are two senators, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Dr. Carson may rally as may governors Christie or Kasich, or any of the other would-be nominees. Trump could continue to soar. It is an exceedingly strange political cycle now overladen with an anxiety that is appropriate, given the spread of terror by the proponents of an Islamic State.
The next big meetup of the candidates comes on December 15 in Las Vegas at the next CNN-Salem Media Group debate, one in which I will again participate and, given the pace of events, only The Amazing Kreskin of ’70s television fame would be foolish enough to predict what the agenda will be at that debate, or what will drive Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina voters in February.
Americans will give thanks Thursday, and many will remember in their prayers the families and friends of the three Americans killed by terrorists in France, Mali and Israel over the past two weeks: Nohemi Gonzalez, Anita Datar and Ezra Schwartz, as well as the hundreds of others not our citizens slaughtered by terrorist or state actors in places as different as Ukraine and Mosul.
The candidate best able to articulate that anxiety, that watchfulness, that faith in a good God and a commitment to being His agents of justice and peace in a dangerous world will have a considerable edge in Iowa 10 weeks from now, when voting begins.