The conventional wisdom has always been that Jeb Bush was supposed to be president a long time ago, and George W. Bush snuck into the chute first because he won the governorship of Texas when Bush lost his race for Florida governor. The idea is that Jeb's the more serious and studious brother. But maybe George W. Bush was just a much, much better candidate.
Jon Ward of Yahoo is a great observer of politics, and his view — which I share — is that Jeb Bush had the most costly night of all the candidates. It was his chance to show he's not awkward, that he agrees with Republicans on a range of issues, and that he would be an attack dog against Hillary Clinton in a general election. Fail. Fail. Fail. Here's Jon's take:
The former Florida governor struggled to find a comfort zone in the debate setting, looking at times like he was trying to process a multitude of thoughts simultaneously, very unlike his more confident self on the campaign trail in less formal settings.
If Bush is workmanlike in a speech, but animated and inspired in a question-and-answer session or a town hall setting, then in his first time on the debate stage he looked uncertain.
"He’s got to look the part," one of his advisers said before the night kicked off. Bush did not for most of the night. He stumbled over his words, lacked assertiveness and failed to go on offense as aggressively as he could have.
I thought his worst moment came early, when he blew a chance to show he's not just a son of one president and a brother of another president.
"So do you understand the real concern in this country about dynastic politics?" Fox's Bret Baier asked.
Here's how Bush started:
Absolutely, I do, and I'm gonna run hard, run with heart, and run to win.
I'm gonna have to earn this. Maybe the barrier -- the bar's even higher for me. That's fine.
I've got a record in Florida. I'm proud of my dad, and I'm certainly proud of my brother. In Florida, they called me Jeb, because I earned it.
It was the worst possible thing he could have said. Obviously he didn't earn his name. He was given that by the dynastic family he was asked about. I can only imagine what his handlers were thinking — but I bet it was, "How did he manage to foul up the smart line we had ready to go?"
Why give him that benefit of the doubt? Because it became clear a few moments later what he meant to say.
They called me Veto Corleone. Because I vetoed 2,500 separate line-items in the budget.
Special thanks to the Washington Post for the annotated transcript.
Here are 9 more things to know today.
1) The Donald's superpower
Jeb's saving grace Thursday night: All eyes were on The Donald. And Trump didn't disappoint. He led off the debate by being the only candidate to refuse to pledge to 1) support the eventual nominee, and 2) decline to run for a third-party candidacy if he loses the nomination.
Ezra Klein's got a fun piece this morning on how Trump's utter lack of shame is his superpower:
You cannot embarrass Donald Trump. You cannot back him down with questions that make other candidates buckle. And the crowd loves him for it. They love him because he does not back down. The fact that Trump doesn't back down is the core of Trump-ism. It is the answer to how he will negotiate with the Democrats, with China, with Mexico. He will get what he wants because he doesn't back down.
Is it lunacy? Sure. But it's an appealing kind of lunacy. It's the ultimate Green Lantern Theory of the American Presidency. Candidates always promise that by virtue of their force of character, they will be able to do what their predecessors couldn't, while making fewer compromises than their predecessors made. It's what the people want to hear.
But Trump goes further. There is no border or boundary to his self-confidence. He doesn't just tell you he won't back down. He stands up and shows he won't back down. He is a mathematical proof for himself.
I weighed in, too, with the argument that Trump is the ultimate Tea Party candidate, the anti-establishment proof that the movement has fully infiltrated the GOP:
Donald Trump's candidacy is the apotheosis of a movement created to take down the Washington establishment. His brazen hostility toward every conceivable political institution and convention works so well because it echoes the nihilism that the Tea Party injected into the Grand Old Party.
It was during [the 2010] election that Tea Party–backed candidates began knocking off Republican incumbents and winning hotly contested open-seat primaries. The Tea Party was ascendant, and its influence in the halls of Congress could be seen in the failure of Obama and Republican leaders to reach a grand budget bargain in 2011, a series of standoffs over the federal debt limit, and the 15-day government shutdown in 2013.
But until now, there's never been a Tea Party presidential candidate. Trump, for better and worse, is exactly that — the logical extension of a Tea Party movement that is now playing at the highest level in politics.
2) Marco Rubio, Megyn Kelly, and the rape and incest exceptions
"If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently through no fault of the baby?" Megyn Kelly asked Rubio in reference to his support for anti-abortion bills that include exceptions in cases of rape and incest — and sometimes in cases of danger to the life of the mother.
Rubio said she had misstated his position.
It's true, he has co-sponsored several anti-abortion measures that include such exemptions. But his campaign spokesperson, Alex Conant, said Rubio wants to outlaw abortion and will support bills that limit it. It's a little nuanced: He'll take what he can get in terms of stopping abortions, and there's no way those bills make it into law without what have become standard exceptions. It's not that he supports the exemptions, it's that he knows he can't make any progress right now without them.
Here's more from my story on that.
3) How you can tell Scott Walker had a bad night: He released a day-after strategy memo
I can't think of a print-appropriate comparison, so I'll just say this: One sign that you had a lackluster debate performance is a quick pivot away from the debate. That's what Scott Walker did Friday morning. That said, it's worth reading the strategy memo that his campaign chair sent to "interested parties," including reporters. Here' some of it:
Where many candidates see a pathway through one early state, we see pathways through them all.
Governor Walker's long list of conservative successes in Wisconsin, a blue state a Republican presidential candidate hasn't won since 1984, has provided him with a natural base of support that has helped fuel the campaign's momentum thus far. There are voters who admire his success in instituting big, bold conservative reforms and there are also state and local leaders who are inspired by Walker's ability to win tough policy fights in the face of relentless liberal opposition.
The task at hand for us is building on this groundswell of grassroots and grasstops support, and we will do so with a simple strategy: We are going to outwork every other campaign and candidate in the race.
In the nation’s first contest, the Iowa Caucus, more than a third of Iowa state senators have already joined our team, and we've secured the full support and endorsements of more than 60 current and former state and local officials. This is testament to Gov. Walker's broad appeal among local leaders and will pay dividends in the coming weeks and months as we unveil an impressive roster of campaign chairs across the country.
And this is just the beginning. While Gov. Walker’s resounding victory over liberal union bosses in the fight to reform collective bargaining is widely noted, his many other conservative achievements – creating jobs, cutting taxes, fixing Wisconsin’s deficit, defunding Planned Parenthood, and passing Voter ID and Concealed Carry – aren’t as well known. Governor Walker has yet to become the household-name that so many others have, yet we are in the mix in every state across the country because people are hungry for leadership – something badly needed in Washington.
4) So, Fox actually won the debate
The best way to tell that Fox was the big winner was to watch the debate. The second best way is to read Jeremy Peters's story about it in the New York Times — yes, the New York Times praised the Fox moderators. Not totally man bites dog, but worth paying attention to. Here's Peters:
The triumvirate of Fox News anchors who ran the two-hour event — Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier — seemed to have one mission above all else in questioning the 10 would-be presidents they faced across the stage at Quicken Loans Arena: Make them squirm.
There was more than just good television at stake. For the journalists of Fox News, the debate offered a potentially defining moment in front of millions of people, during one of the most anticipated political events of the year. This was an opportunity to demonstrate that their network is not, as its critics have charged, a blindly loyal propaganda division of the Republican Party, that Fox journalists can be as unsparing toward conservatives as they are with liberals, and that they can eviscerate with equal opportunity if they choose.
5) Winner for covering the debate like it was D-Day: Politico
And that's just part of the page.
6) How the other half lived
Hillary Clinton was off gallivanting with the Kardashians (that's what you do with Kardashians, right?). But her campaign invited reporters to watch the debate at the Brooklyn HQ. The Boston Globe's Annie Linskey, one of my favorite political writers, has the deets about how the Clinton staffers watched — away from the reporters:
About 20 crammed in to the war room in her Brooklyn headquarters while dozens of others gathered to watch the 10 GOP contenders spar. Cheers could be heard from the assembled staff early in the exchange when Florida Senator Marco Rubio declared: "This election cannot be a resume competition!" If it is, he said, "Clinton will win!"
The press was mostly restricted to one room set up with long tables, power outlets and a large screen TV. Walls were decorated with quotes from various Republican presidential candidates praising Clinton, including kind words from former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Texas governor Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.
7) Wait, what? They're giddy about the experience factor?
I get it. Marco Rubio said Hillary Clinton's got the best résumé of the presidential candidates, and it sounds like high praise. It's not. Does anyone remember the 2008 campaign? Barack Obama was like the guy shrinking margins and blowing up font sizes to get to a full page, and Clinton had more of a curriculum vitae. Her record — the Iraq War vote, in particular, and her focus on her experience in general — lost her the Democratic primary. Rubio has to say that résumé doesn't matter. And the truth is it matters less than a lot of other factors. See Bush, George H. W. versus Clinton, William J. for more on that. Keep up, people.
8) Jobs, jobs, jobs
The economy added 215,000 jobs in July, and the unemployment rate remained 5.3 percent. Vox's Matt Yglesias is really smart about the economy, so I'll let him take over from here:
More important in some ways than the preliminary data from July is the revisions to the May and June data that collectively added 14,000 jobs to the overall picture.
Due to some scheduling quirks, this is one of the least-anticipated monthly jobs reports in some time. That's because the Federal Reserve does not hold a monetary policy meeting in August, so all this data will be revised and updated in early September in advance of the next meeting. People are very curious as to whether Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues will raise interest rates for the first time in many years at that meeting, but today's jobs report doesn't tell us anything about that question that won't be overridden in a month.
9) Schumer faces backlash on Iran vote
Steve Dennis at Roll Call wonders whether New York Sen. Chuck Schumer's decision to oppose the Iran deal will cost him the Democratic leader's post — which he's expected to win — in the next Congress:
MoveOn.org announced a "donor strike" after the New York Democrat’s announcement that he opposes the Iran deal and compared him to Joseph I. Lieberman, while former senior White House aide Dan Pfeiffer warned the Democratic base wouldn’t support Schumer for leader.
MoveOn said its 8 million members will withhold funding for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and from any Democratic candidate who sides with Schumer.
Four thoughts here: It won't cost him the job. He could still, as I suggested earlier this week, help line up votes for the White House. If he goes all out against the White House, that's bad news for Obama because it gives other Democrats cover to do the same thing. Finally, Pfeiffer knows the Democratic base doesn't vote in secret-ballot leadership elections among senators, some of whom will be happy Schumer gave them cover and few of whom will blame him for siding with his donor and voter base.