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Bush and Clinton — Jeb and Hillary, that is — stumble badly

The 2016 presidential race is going to give us plenty of drama if the last week is any guide: The press corps counting the minutes, days and weeks since an imperious Hillary Clinton last deigned to answer their questions. Jeb Bush stumbling on the most obvious issue of his campaign, Iraq. Marco Rubio building perceptions that he might have the right stuff.

OPINION

As of this writing, more than three weeks have passed since presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Clinton had anything to say to reporters. Eight is the number of questions she’s answered since formally declaring her candidacy on April 12. The New York Times started publishing questions its reporters would ask if “we had the opportunity.” The Washington Post had a clock ticking down the minutes (past 34,500 and counting) since she last answered a reporter’s question.

One who is out there responding to inquiries, Republican Bush, managed to fumble the question that should have been the one he was best prepared to answer, about the controversial invasion of Iraq ordered by his brother, President George W. Bush.

The most generous explanation for what happened is this: There was one question Jeb Bush was so eager to answer that he didn’t listen carefully to the question actually asked by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Knowing what we know now, she asked, would he have gone to war in Iraq. Instead Bush answered this question: Considering what was known back then, would you have invaded Iraq? Yes, he said.

Democrats, liberals, conservatives, Republicans pounced. It took several more answers to Kelly’s question over four days before Bush got it right, no he wouldn’t have gone into Iraq knowing the chaos and mistakes of the past decade.

This blunder came as Bush — with many campaign appearances, a readiness to talk about a variety of issues, and a few well-thought-out if not inspirationally delivered speeches — was doing himself some good. For someone like me who is repelled by the idea of a Bush-Clinton match-up, I found myself saying, before the Iraq question fiasco, that if his last name weren’t Bush, he’d be a great candidate.

No doubt Bush is raising a ton of money and can stay in the race for a long time, past the early caucuses and primaries in the very red states where suspicion of him is highest. Still, the last week was no minor setback.

For Bush’s supporters, it raised an uncomfortable comparison with Mitt Romney. In the 2012 race, Romney proved unprepared to have a good answer to the questions about his wealth and business background that everyone knew were coming.

For Republicans, it was also a reminder that with a Bush candidacy, as with a Clinton nomination, so much of the 2016 campaign would be devoted to tired arguments about the past.

Another mistake that 2012 GOP nominee Romney made was to bet the bank on the perceived unpopularity of President Barack Obama rather than to focus on an agenda for the future. With Clinton and the many controversies surrounding her, GOP contenders might be tempted to think an anti-Clinton strategy is the best road to the White House. Wrong.

One who seems determined not to repeat that mistake is Florida’s Rubio. The other day he went before the influential Council on Foreign Relations to lay out his view that an America militarily and economically strong is vital to global security and preventing war. He didn’t hesitate to label Clinton the candidate of yesterday’s policies but concentrated on his vision for the future.

With international crises and terrorism pushing national security to the top of voter concerns, Rubio is out to demonstrate he has the foreign affairs knowledge and understanding to lead America in troubled times. That’s also a card the senator can play against the sentiment in the GOP that the party’s best hope is nominating a governor with executive experience, which would be mainly on domestic issues.

Bush and Clinton can only wish they had as good a week as Rubio.

Email: shuntley.cst@gmail.com