Jeb Bush’s brother, the former president, his sister-in-law, the former first lady, his mother, his sister, another brother, and of course his wife and children have come to South Carolina, where George W. Bush’s political fortunes were made, in hopes of vaulting Jeb back into the Republican presidential race. But with poll after poll showing Bush hovering around 10 percent — fighting with John Kasich for fourth place — that looks less and less likely every hour.
So it wasn’t surprising that there was a big media turnout at Bush’s townhall here in Columbia Thursday. Yes, there’s plenty of press to go around now; South Carolina is teeming with reporters. But there is also a Jeb death watch underway. That’s especially true after Bush held a downer of a townhall on Wednesday in Summerville in which some audience members bemoaned the condition of his campaign and wanted to know why he can’t raise his game against Donald Trump.
“It’s all been decided, apparently,” Bush said in frustration. “The pundits have already figured it out. We don’t have to go vote. I should stop campaigning maybe.”
Bush has mentioned that he knows obituaries are being written for his campaign. I talked to one reporter who noted wryly that when Bush made such an obituary comment, at that precise moment, he, the reporter, was in fact working on Bush’s campaign obituary.
Bush is asked about it everywhere he goes. Is his campaign running out of money? How high does he have to finish on Saturday to stay in the race? When will he drop out?
“We’ve been rising in the polls, I feel good about where we are, and I’m going to work hard,” Bush told reporters as he emerged from his Jeb! campaign bus at the Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia.
The Bush who spoke to maybe 150 to 200 people a few minutes later gave the impression of a man who is working very hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There were veiled references to his troubles everywhere.
One came when Bush brought up his unsuccessful run for governor of Florida 22 years ago. “In 1994, I ran and I lost,” he said. “It was a great experience. Losing is actually one of the best things that you can do if you’re interested in proving yourself, right? You never learn when you’re successful. You always think it’s all perfect, it will always work out. When you get knocked back is when you adjust, when you learn, when you grow.”
By that standard, the 2016 presidential campaign has been a major learning and growing experience. As Bush finished up his prepared remarks, he hinted that it’s been a long, tough road. “I ask for your support,” he said. “And if you’re not supporting me, I ask for your prayers, because this is a fun journey, but it gets arduous from time to time.”
Several audience members, well-meaning supporters, offered Bush their best wishes. “Thank you,” said one woman who asked a question about homelessness and mental illness. “I know there are a lot of people praying with you … so don’t lose heart.”
SOURCE: BYRON YORK