That headline may be an uncharitable characterization, but if Jeb wants to be the party's standard-bearer, he'd better get accustomed to handling unhelpful narratives. And I'm…pretty sure this is unhelpful:
Jeb Bush cited his brother, former President George W. Bush, as one of his main advisers on the Middle East in a private meeting in Manhattan on Tuesday, according to three people who attended the off-the-record event. The comment came as a shock to some who were in the room because Jeb, a likely presidential contender, has taken pains to publicly distance himself from his brother and his controversial policies, particularly in that area of the world...His comments behind closed doors indicate a closer connection to his brother. After a previous dust-up about who was counseling him on world issues, Jeb was asked Tuesday about his foreign policy advisers. That's when he listed his brother. The Washington Post reported that Jeb cited his brother as an adviser on Israel, however, four sources confirmed to CNN that the comments were focused on foreign policy more broadly. Three of them said Jeb noted his brother was an adviser on the Middle East. One of the people in the room jotted down Jeb's comment as such: "What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush." Bush spokesman Tim Miller said in a statement to CNN: "Gov. Bush deeply respects his brother's service to this country and in response to a question about James Baker and Israel, he reiterated that he looks to his brother whose stalwart support for our ally is in line with his commitment to standing with Israel in the face of great threats to their security and our own.
So the Bush camp is arguing that Jeb was talking specifically about Israel, but several people in the room interpreted his remarks differently. Real talk: Fair or not, the particulars won't matter. Raise your hand if you think Democrats will acknowledge contextual ambiguities as they grind that "what you need to know..." quote into the public's collective consciousness, month after month, if Gov Bush becomes the Republican nominee. Anyone? Their entire messaging strategy against Jeb was already going to be, "Bush, recession, war, Bush, recession, war." Jeb's alleged comment about his brother and military intervention would make for irresistible attack ad fodder because it reinforces and merges two of the most potent knocks against him. I recently spoke with NBCNews.com and offered this assessment of the governor's strengths and weaknesses:
"Jeb is nimble and intellectually curious. He's quick on his feet, informed and more conservative than some critics on the right give him credit for," said Guy Benson, the political editor of the conservative website Townhall and a Fox News contributor. But Benson, who met privately with Bush earlier this year, added, "the dynasty or last name issue remains a real vulnerability. I suspect assuaging those concerns among a significant number of voters will prove to be a complicated task for the governor."
Complicated, indeed -- especially when you're already clarifying what you meant when you referred to your ex-president brother as one of your go-to counselors on Middle Eastern affairs. Many conservatives look back on President Bush's administration and foreign policy with relative fondness; it's understandable in the era of "smart power" weakness and incoherence. But the party faithful must recognize that even if the American people are decidedly unimpressed with the current administration, they're by no means eager for a return to the Bush years. Relatedly, Jeb just affirmed in an interview with Fox's Megyn Kelly that he'd have voted to authorize the Iraq war back in 2002. This is basically the best answer he could have given, all things considered, which underscores some of the inherent challenges he'd face in a general election setting:
Yep, Hillary is the only major candidate in the race from either party who voted for the Iraq war, along with a majority of Democratic Senators -- including our sitting Vice President and Secretary of State. I'll leave you with Hillary beating the drums of war: