With Mitt Romney out of the 2016 Republican presidential race, the left has switched targets and is now going full bore after the presumed front runner, Jeb Bush.
The line of attack hasn’t changed much since the 1950’s; the Republican frontrunner is always portrayed as stupid, or a hypocrite, or a rich dilettante, or unfit to be president in some other way. Every wart, every indiscretion — no matter how long ago it occurred — is resurrected in order to “explain” why a current candidate is too dangerous, or too unstable to occupy the highest office in the land.
Oppo research is one thing; all campaigns on both sides have extensive files on the opposition candidate. But in recent election cycles, we’ve seen a highly coordinated effort to define the Republican candidate early in the race by left wing pundits, publications, and columnists. First, it was the notorious “JournoList” email list that linked more than 150 liberal writers and politicos in efforts to smear the opposition and develop coherent themes and narratives to use in defense of their causes.
Today, “JournoList 2.0” is apparently much smaller, more secretive, but apparently even more effective. Immediately following Mitt Romney’s withdrawal from the race, two articles appeared taking a bite out of Jeb Bush. First, from the Boston Globe, a profile of Jeb from his years at the exclusive boys boarding school, Phillips Academy in Andover, MA just outside of Boston:
“The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb’s room,” Tibbetts said. “He had a portable stereo with removable speakers. He put on Steppenwolf for me.” As the rock group’s signature song, Magic Carpet Ride, blared from the speakers, Tibbetts said he smoked hash with Bush. He said he once bought hashish from Bush but stressed, in a follow-up e-mail, “Please bear in mind that I was seeking the hash, it wasn’t as if he was a dealer; though he did suggest I take up cigarettes so that I could hold my hits better, after that 1st joint.”
Bush previously has acknowledged what he called his “stupid” and “wrong” use of marijuana. In the years since, he has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.
Tibbetts, who was eventually forced to leave Andover in the spring of 1970 after school officials accused him of using drugs, said his one regret about his relationship with Bush is that he agreed to participate with him in the bullying of a student in the dormitory. Their target was a short classmate whom they taunted, and then sewed his pajama bottoms so that they were impossible to put on. The act was particularly embarrassing, said Tibbetts, who said he felt remorse for joining in with “kids being cruel.”
Bush said in the interview that he has no recollection of this or other bullying incidents raised by classmates. He said he never viewed himself as a bully. “I don’t believe that is true,” he said, referring to classmates’ recollections of specific incidents. “It was 44 years ago and it is not possible for me to remember.”
Bush, who would eventually grow to nearly 6-foot-4, stood out as one of the tallest boys on campus, which made him admired by some and feared by others, according to Gregg Hamilton, who was at Pemberton Cottage with Bush. To Hamilton, who would weigh 98 pounds on graduation day, Bush was initially not a friendly presence.
“Jeb Bush was large, physically imposing, and traveled in a crowd that was I guess somewhat threatening to an outsider like myself. I saw him as a cigarette smoker and ‘toker’ and someone that was comfortable being in charge of a group,” Hamilton said. “I was small physically, and small at an all-male boarding school [that], at that time, was a bit of a hostile environment for the kids — sort of a ‘Lord of the Flies’ situation, at least as I saw it.”
Jeb, the pot smoking, hash toking, big, bad, savage bully. Oh, and he was a stuck up rich boy too:
Sylvester said “the thing that really struck me about Jeb more than anyone I ever met, is he understood that he was from the world that really counted and the rest of us weren’t. It really was quite a waste of his time to engage us. This was kind of his family high school. There wasn’t anything he could do to be kicked out so he was relaxed about rules, doing the work. This was just his family’s place.”
Not to be outdone, Politico is running a hit piece that tells the Terry Schiavo drama through the eyes of her husband Michael. The tag line for the article is revealing: “Michael Schiavo knows as well as anyone what Jeb Bush can do with executive power. He thinks you ought to know too.”
Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.
For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.
“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”
For Michael Schiavo, though, the importance of the episode—Bush’s involvement from 2003 to 2005, and what it might mean now for his almost certain candidacy—is even more viscerally obvious.
“He should be ashamed,” he said. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”
The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”
“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”
And what he believed in this case, and what he did, said Miami’s Dan Gelber, a Democratic member of the state House during Bush’s governorship, “probably was more defining than I suspect Jeb would like.”
What follows is about 7,000 words of anti-Jeb copy that portrays him as a power hungry, vindictive man who would obviously be a danger to liberty if he were elected president. But a lot of Bush’s actions in the Schiavo case were taken because of the unprecedented interference of outside groups looking to either pull the plug on the comatose woman, or save her life. It was impossible for Bush to remain on the sidelines and, after taking the side of the parents who believed Terry Schiavo should not be starved to death, he was committed to use all the powers of his office to protect the helpless.
Even many conservatives believed Bush went too far. Indeed, the autopsy revealed that Terry Schiavo’s brain damage was so extensive, that there was never a chance she would recover. But to describe his actions as “grasping for power” is to wildly overstate the case. And Michael Schiavo, one of the least lovable characters in this drama who clearly had an interest in seeing his wife dead, is hardly the best subject to use to comment on the behavior of the Florida governor.
We can expect many more of these hit pieces as the left seeks to tear down a dangerous opponent.