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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Jeb Bush wants boots on the ground in the Middle East

Judging by his pathetic standing in the Republican presidential polls (5th place with a paltry 5.3% in the Real Clear Politics average), it’s somewhat surprising that anyone in the media is still paying attention to Jeb Bush.

Perhaps it’s sympathy or because of the family name, but journalists seem to delight in every one of Jeb’s attempts to reinvent himself. First he was the experienced statesman; then he was the energetic fighter (in Jeb Bushresponse to Trump); then he went back to being himself with the “Jeb will fix it” campaign.

And now… he’s a populist, too.

Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner reports Jeb said at a New Hampshire house party, “The incumbents like that," he said of the tax code. "Companies of scale like all of the carveouts because it gives them special treatment and they have the scale for the lobbyists, accountants, and compliance officers to be able to get through the maze."

Carney says Bush’s new tone could signal a shift in the GOP away from a party intimately associated with Big Business and Wall Street.

I don’t think so. I’d argue this is a presidential candidate trying to distance himself from the impression he favors the financial elites – many of whom would still be giving big money to his campaign and the RNC.

Jeb may not be the best presidential candidate in the world, but he isn’t stupid. He sees the polls with the “outsiders” continuing to take around two-thirds of the vote – and they’re doing it with a populist, anti-status quo message.

Conservatives want to shatter the power structure in America, not consolidate it further.

Donald Trump may be a billionaire but he’s successfully convinced people that he understands them and will fight the powerful establishment on their behalf. Ben Carson doesn’t have any wealthy backers and also promises to take care of the little guy. Ted Cruz rails against the “Washington cartel,” which certainly includes the Chamber of Commerce and other dominant business interests.

Jeb’s attack on Wall Street smells more like “me too-ism” than signaling a directional shift among Republican elites. Bush the presidential candidate knows he has no chance without tapping into the mood of the voters.

Plainly stated, nobody really notices or fears Jeb anymore, so it’s unlikely his new populist message will light a spark. The anti-outsider Republicans are uniting around Marco Rubio. The best Jeb can hope for is to try and save what’s left of the Bush family reputation.

Jeb channels his inner Bush in calling for American troops in the Middle East

Speaking of reputation, Jeb appears to have happily adopted the Bush legacy of aggressive foreign policy intervention.

Tim Alberta of National Review writes, “The presidential candidate whose campaign was to be anchored by talk of economic mobility — and who so often insists he’s his ‘own man,’ endeavoring to escape the shadows of his brother and father — found himself calling for the deployment of American combat troops to the Middle East Wednesday, embracing a family legacy he was determined to transcend.”

Alberta says Bush told a roomful of cadets, military officials, and civilians at The Citadel that,
“The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force.” The scope of America’s ground presence, he said, “should be in line with what our military generals recommend” as “necessary to achieve our objective.”

Wow. Jeb’s resigned to putting forth the very same foreign policy views that ultimately sank his brother’s approval rating. Does he not remember that Americans still largely oppose a sizable U.S. military presence in the region?

Bush’s speech to the young cadets made it clear he now favors sending American ground forces to the Middle East, though he didn’t specify where or how many.

Jeb’s decision to embrace his brother’s legacy comes as no big surprise -- first, because his foreign policy advisors are largely retreads from the previous Bush administrations, and two, because he needs to appear decisive in the face of political challenges from his rivals – especially Marco Rubio.

Bush instinctively knows that perhaps his only opportunity to get back into the race is to elbow out Rubio from the hawkish pro-intervention establishment lane on the Republican freeway. Taking a middle ground on involvement while the fires still burn overseas would only serve to make him look weaker.

As if that’s even possible…

Since he has the same policy advisors as his brother and father, Jeb’s hearing the same whispers about the need to have the American military take charge despite little evidence that the Iraq War(s) have produced any lasting positive results.

No wonder American opinion is still largely set against redeploying soldiers to the region. How is it going to be different this time? If anything, ISIS would require more door-to-door rooting out of the rat-infested plague than the previous conflicts.

The ideology that’s feeding ISIS won’t be defeated by piling up body counts – and the American public won’t tolerate another costly and expensive war.

Bush’s attempt to out-hawk Rubio would likely lead to a lot of dead people. Is it worth it just to try and win an election?

Donald Trump has no foreign policy team – does it matter?

As mentioned in the previous segment, Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team looks quite familiar with key roles being filled by Bush advisors from the past.

No one should be happy about that – but at least Bush has a team to evaluate.

Republican race frontrunner Donald Trump, on the other hand, hasn’t named who he’s coordinating policy with as he goes along. Does that mean he’s a one-man band?

Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics reports, “[A]t a moment when the focus of the Republican presidential primary has swiveled in light of terror attacks in Paris, Trump may be at an even greater disadvantage than his rival. Whereas Carson has advisers coaching him on national security and foreign policy, Trump apparently does not.”

There’s an old saying that “free advice is worth what you pay for it,” so Trump’s reluctance to surround himself with a bunch of “experts” (paid or otherwise) with impressive looking diplomas on the wall is somewhat understandable.

I wouldn’t say I’m defending him on this one, but it could easily be argued that presidential and congressional advisors have done some terrible damage in the recent past – and that’s true on both sides of the aisle.

Marco Rubio certainly must regret the guidance he was given regarding leading the Gang of Eight. Bad advice is always worse than no advice.

Berg says Trump does have some informal advisors (business leaders Carl Icahn and Steve Wynn), but by most accounts, he’s a council of one. “The true core, of course, is Trump himself — a presidential candidate who, contrary to the traditional model, does not like to be told what to say or do, or be otherwise advised. A policy team cannot be assembled for a candidate who does not want one.”

The lack of policy weight shows up in Trump’s answers to questions on the subject, though in truth, people who favor Trump seem to like the fact he’s personally decisive and trust him to do the right thing.

In that sense, it’s not so different than electing any politician. Officeholders can fill a room with all sorts of opinions but that doesn’t mean the ones signing the papers ever listen to them.

If anything, this one-man-team concept lends itself more towards leadership style than it does lack of competence. Trump clearly prefers to make vertical decisions. It’s just another factor to consider in assessing all of the candidates.

(Note: Here’s a look at Trump digging at Ben Carson on foreign policy.)

Poll shows Trump and Carson are still top horses in the race even after Paris

Finally this week, at least according to a new poll, the race moves towards Thanksgiving looking a lot like it has for the past couple months – and the Paris terrorist attacks don’t appear to have made much difference.

Eliza Collins of Politico reports, “A Bloomberg Politics poll of U.S. adults out Thursday found that billionaire Donald Trump tops all GOP candidates with 24 percent, Dr. Ben Carson follows with 20 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has 12 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes in at 9 percent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has 6 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has 4 percent. All other candidates are at 3 percent or below.”

Collins also notes that Trump has good-sized leads over Carson in combatting Islamic terrorism and handling Vladimir Putin. No shocker there – Trump’s big talk would naturally lend itself to looking stronger than the soft-spoken scholarly former neurosurgeon.

This poll along with other recent surveys only confirms the Republican electorate remains antagonistic to the Washington establishment – and a renewed public focus on foreign policy hasn’t shaken that resolve, either.

The Republican sample size for the poll was rather small and the margin of error was five percent – but the overall picture stays the same.

It provides an opportunity for some good discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner table next week. I’m looking forward to it!

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