"Thirty-two years in the private sector — eight years as governor," the curiously verb-averse former GOP frontrunner told USA today on Wednesday. "Never worked in Washington, D.C. — never lived in Washington, D.C." The point of these geographical musings, according to David Jackson, who conducted the interview, is that "Jeb Bush, whose presidential campaign seems to be struggling in the year of the political 'outsider,' disputes the notion that he is any kind of a political 'insider.'"
The real story here, however, is that Bush has become deluded about what it means to be a political insider.
DC is a place. "Washington" is a state of mind.
Hundreds of thousands of people live in the District of Columbia. Even more work here. But the vast majority of the people who live and work in DC are not even remotely "Washington insiders." They are just people, working the same health care, retail, education, and food service jobs that most people in every city have.
Because when it comes to insider status, it's not where you live — it's who you know. Do you have any senators' phone numbers? Have you been to meetings in the White House? Do lobbyists owe you favors? Do you get a warm reception on Morning Joe? Do you have fond recollections of Tim Russert? Have you been to Camp David?
For Jeb Bush, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
One time Jeb went to the Obama White House with his dad for a meeting with the president. But he also regularly spoke to Obama's predecessor, who happens to be his brother. And the dad he brought to that meeting also used to be president. Did I mention that his grandpa used to be a United States senator? If you are the kind of person whose senator grandpa doesn't even count as one of your top connections to DC politics, you are a Washington insider.
Senators can be outsiders — Bushes can't
Conversely, guys like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz stand much more "outside" the favored circle of the political establishment despite being card-carrying members of the Senate. The issue is that both Paul and Cruz are, in their different ways, troublemakers. They buck the party leadership at times, wrecking the GOP's best-laid plans. It's true that their rebellions come from inside the political system, but what matters is that they are rebellions.
In fact, the smart case for Bush has always been precisely that he's not one of these rebellious sorts. The GOP has been repeatedly roiled over the past four or five years by backbench demands for more dramatic confrontations with President Obama. These confrontations have generally been embarrassing and served as an impediment to the goal of maximizing the party's appeal next November. Jeb Bush, as an establishment-minded guy, was supposed to be someone who could focus the party on Job No. 1 of beating Hillary Clinton and pushing Democrats out of their last refuge of political power.
Instead, under the banner of Donald Trump the GOP primary electorate has thus far shown an inclination to do the reverse and risk throwing away a generational opportunity on what amounts to a lark. The case for Bush is necessarily the case that this is simply a dumb idea, and that a party as close to near-total political victory ought to stick with the establishment. Bush's problem, however, is that beyond any question of anti-outsider sentiment he seems to be a monstrously clumsy politician. This week's effort to reposition himself as an outsider is just reminding everyone of that and exposing his real problem in the campaign — not just the current high standing of Trump and Ben Carson, but the fact that Marco Rubio seems like such a clearly superior flavor of insider.