Jeb Bush has let himself be turned into a cartoon. The once-formidable front-runner has become a timid and weak loser who can’t help but prattle on in therapy-speak as he’s trying to convince voters he should be commander-in-chief, and every single thing he says only hardens that image, from his bold decision to start saying light swears like “damn” to his confession that, when he was a kid, a critical word from his dad would send him into “a deep spiraling depression." There’s one actual political cartoon that captures it perfectly: Jeb is shown as a chubby dork in bad clothes and glasses, asking a dashing and virile Donald Trump if he can dance with sexy America.
The John Kerry of the 2016 election is Jeb Bush. It’s funny because it was his brother, George W. Bush, who turned war hero Kerry into a simpering loser who couldn’t even order a sandwich correctly. Worse, Jeb has looked especially weak in moments when he was defending his brother's legacy—giving four different answers when asked whether the Iraq war was a good idea, or failing to stop Trump's criticism of W's national security record by saying, with umbrage, "he kept us safe" and then, of 9/11, without awareness of the contradiction, "Do you remember the rubble?" Bush has admitted his performances in the debates haven't been great so far; he has another chance to shake this image at the fourth Republican showdown next Tuesday.
Bush has tried repeatedly to appeal to the youth by demonstrating his love of technology, so it’s fitting that the slow process of transforming a rich and successful two-term governor into a pitiful nerd can be demonstrated so clearly in Vines. I’m a GIF loyalist, but these Vines pull perfect moments from Bush’s own videos and—with their cheery music, looping audio, and closeups of his faces—show how Bush can’t quite bring himself to put his whole heart in the humiliating campaign bullshit. Somehow, for instance, looped in this way, Bush’s voice sounds more pleading and desperately cheery than you would expect from a confident candidate for the most powerful job in the world. (“MacBook Pro, baby!”)
At the start of the election cycle, Jeb was seen as an unstoppable force, with all his money and connections. Then Donald Trump started mocking him as low-energy, and bizarrely, Jeb let the insult get to him. At the second Republican debate, Bush declared his Secret Service code name would be “Eveready”—because that's "very high energy." When Trump said his code name would be “Humble,” an approximately 87 percent better joke, Bush laughed along embarrassingly, as if he was desperate to get Trump to like him. “That’s a good one!”
This was the beginning of Bush's descent into cartoon, prodded by the taunts of an actual living cartoon. The Bush campaign’s response has not been to say the attack on his manhood is stupid, but to claim that it is unfounded, that voters need to see more of the authentic Jeb. "I can't be something I'm not," Bush said this week in a reboot of his campaign in Tampa.
But we have seen the real Jeb! The best Jeb Vines didn't emerge, though, until his reputation as a nerd solidified in recent weeks. (Vic Berger IV is really good at Vine, for the record.) This one, of Jeb pulling a zip-up hoodie over his head, while saying, "Eat your heart out, Zuckerberg," went viral last week. But it's from a video uploaded to the Jeb! campaign YouTube channel back in July, titled "#JebNoFilter: Hoodie," and posted before the whole world realized Trump would have to be taken seriously. Jeb looks like a huge nerd, but less-self conscious. As he snuggles into the hood, he seems to feel real joy.
But Trump got to him. In the Republican debates thus far, Jeb's emotions have been all over his face—frustration, mostly, and disbelief that he has to put up with Trump. He's looked weak, both because he can't come up with a decent comeback to Trump, and also because he so clearly wants to find one.
Bush has walked right into Trump's trap—set intentionally or not—of trying to prove his manhood, only to look more ridiculous. So, for example, he told an audience that while he was "working out" he noticed ads for the new show Supergirl, and "she looked pretty hot." This Vine highlights Bush's cheesy leering in large khakis.
Sometimes I think, Maybe not everything is about sex? And then I see an unironic cartoon of Donald Trump as a muscular, thick-haired conquering prince, with Jeb in a girly princess dress. Or I’m told by a Trump supporter that Trump can’t be anti-woman, because New York women are the most conceited women in the world, and they love Trump. It should go without saying that a man’s virility is not necessarily expressed by his willingness to be a jerk in a debate, and even if it were, virility is no measure of how good a president he would be. President Warren G. Harding fathered a child with his mistress, and he’s not even minor currency material.
Bush claims to dismiss the tips he's getting on how to boost his poll numbers with more machismo: "I've gotten a lot of advice lately myself—more than enough, thank you. ... Some is stylistic: take off the suit coat, ditch the glasses, get rid of the purple striped tie. ... Some advice is more strategic. Nail that zinger. Be angrier. Hide your inner wonk." But in his campaign reset, he's obviously trying to do something different to create a better Real Jeb. He's debuted a new slogan, Jeb Can Fix It. It seems his campaign didn't know the slogan was so similar to a catchphrase from the children's show Bob the Builder, about a friendly non-threatening male.
But the new Real Jeb is angrier, tougher. Bush has said "damn" at least three times this week, The New York Times reports, under the headline "Reaching for Vigor, Jeb Bush Slips In Some Gentle Profanity." Some of his rage is directed toward the establishment he was born into. "We’re Americans, dammit!" Bush said at a recent town hall in New Hampshire. "The government is a parasite—we’re the host." (While this might be the red meat he thinks the Republican base wants, Bush might want to take into consideration it also means his family has been parasitic for about 60 years.) He declared, "I eat nails before I have breakfast." It's unclear whether he wanted to one-up the nails-for-breakfast cliche or was just so tough he wasn't all that familiar with it. Either way, we are all the interviewer in this lovely Vine by Todd Dracula, staring blankly at Jeb as he struggles to prove his manliness.
When he's not swearing or eating an iron amuse-bouche, the new Real Jeb is also more vulnerable. “I’ve learned to accept the simple fact that I’m imperfect under God’s watchful eye,” Bush told The Washington Post this week. “I don’t have a self-esteem problem, and I don’t have an overstated-worth problem. ... The adversity I turn into opportunity. It’s an obstacle to jump over. It’s an opportunity to get better.” The Post declared: "Jeb Bush’s comeback tour sounds like a therapy session."
Everything Jeb says will now be folded into the cartoon. This Vine is titled, ".@JebBush gives himself public pep talk #JebCanFixIt #Jeb2016 #JebBush #Wonk."
What can Jeb do to fix it? He's most adorable in the hoodie video, showing real happiness while wrapped in poly-cotton knit fleece. He should actually embrace his nerdiness, instead of claiming to do so while, I don't know, doing deep squats with sexy women sitting on his shoulders. Bush cannot out-macho Trump. He would look cooler if he didn't try.