Bush and Walker finding out the hard way that you can’t out-Trump Trump

If you had asked Jeb Bush and Scott Walker two months ago who would be leading the Republican primary on August 25th, 2015, both of them could have made a solid case that it would be them.

It isn’t them. Not by a lot. A Reuters poll released Friday showed Donald Trump leading both of them with 32 percent support. Jeb came in second with half that, with 16 percent. Walker didn’t break ten percent.

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

That nearly a third of Republican voters look at Trump’s overt racism — complete with shoulder-shrugging at the violence it’s incited — and see something they like has clearly caught Bush and Walker’s attention. And they spent much of last week trying out lines designed to make inroads with those voters. Walker supported, then waffled, then opposed ending birthright citizenship. Jebya slipped in a reference to “anchor babies” in a few campaign stops.

But what neither of these candidates understood about taking the Trump dive is that you can’t half-ass it. If you’re going to go Trump, you’ve got to go full Trump. And you have to have gone full Trump your whole life, or no one will believe it. Which is to say, only Trump can really go Trump.

The rest of the Republican field is weighed down, however slightly, by the fact that they and their consultants still give the slightest of bothers about what political journalists write about them. And they’re maybe — just maybe — weighed down by the slightest bit of myopic conscience, reflexively recoiling when they tread too far into Trump territory and enough journalists go “That’s racist,” prompting a change in tone.

To see this phenomenon on display, one need look no further than Jeb Bush’s response to Donald Trump’s immigration plan. While dismissing an outright repeal of the 14th Amendment as unfeasible, Bush nevertheless adopted Trump’s use of the term “anchor babies” to refer to the children of undocumented immigrants. But when Hillary Clinton hit Bush for using the term, which is widely interpreted as an insult to the Latino community, Bush felt compelled to respond in a way that framed his use of the term as being somewhat respectable.

But the competing pressures of ordinary politics and co-opted Trumpism are an odd combination. Rather than issuing a normal evasion — claiming he never said “anchor babies” or apologizing for the offense — and rather than going full Trump and insisting that the term isn’t offensive at all, Jeb both doubled down on his use of the term while making the positively baffling claim that he wasn’t walking about Mexicans, since it’s Asians who are really posing the big “anchor baby” problem:

There’s a little bit of everything in that answer. There’s the emulation of Trump, refusing to apologize and railing against “political correctness.” But there’s also the tacit admission that using “anchor babies” to describe the children of Latino immigrants is derogatory, or else there’d be nothing to explain. And, finally, there’s the transparent falsity of Bush’s statement, becoming of the very kinds of politicians that have driven GOP voters toward Trump. “Anchor babies” is only used in Republican circles to describe children of Mexican immigrants, and everyone knows it. To respond to that criticism with, “I was talking about Asians, DUH. You’re the real racist for not getting it,” is absurd. And no one believes it.

Also, even if what he said were completely true, and he really did mean Asians, that wouldn’t be better.

But Jeb isn’t the only candidate struggling to cope with Donald Trump’s mass appeal to the Republican base. Scott Walker, who with every turn confirms the assumption that he has the foreign policy bona fides of an eighth grader, called yesterday for President Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House. Said Walker:

Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit…There’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations.

Yes, China’s been messing with us lately. And whether their president gets to hang out in the White House has absolutely nothing to do with it. What’s more, what better way to address cyberattacks, currency manipulation and so on than to have the country’s president over and talk about it, possibly discussing carrots and sticks a bit bigger than dinner and sightseeing?

But none of that matters for Walker. He heard Donald Trump say generic mean things about China, which means that he is now compelled to say generic mean things about China. But given how transparently weak the Walker brand is when it comes to foreign policy, and how obvious it is that he’s simply following Trump’s lead, no one found any reason to take Walker seriously.

Sooner or later, the Republican field will realize that they can’t emulate Trump, so they might as well try and distinguish themselves from him. But with Trump lapping the field in recent polling, we can expect them to make a few more off-brand Trumpian appeals the GOP’s baser instincts.

I can’t wait to see them try to figure out how to sound presidential while reminding the country to speak American:


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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23 Responses to “Bush and Walker finding out the hard way that you can’t out-Trump Trump”

  1. hidflect says:

    The elite have this code whereby they’ll always tell you what they’re going to do to you before they do it thus removing themselves from any moral liability if you let it go ahead. So when you see for a split second some crazy sh1t posted on a sign at a Republican rally, you can consider yourself warned.

  2. hidflect says:

    Yeah, now he needs to work on that stunned mullet stare of his.

  3. BeccaM says:

    Today’s Republican party is giving every sign of being pro-fascism, with stated positions from nearly all of the frontrunner presidential candidates to intentionally violate the Constitution and U.S. law if elected. Trump is just being the most forthright about it and has gone so far as to suggest we can have ‘expedited elections’ so he can become dictator sooner rather than later.

    The time for laughing at them is long over.

  4. BeccaM says:

    I read it that way, too. (smh)

  5. emjayay says:

    A commenter at TPM posted a link to a RS article about what Jeb! referred to:


    Interesting article. Not sure if it’s a real problem, just another symptom of
    people getting rich and the ability to do things internationally, unless
    they run without paying. Or we end up with another Bobby Jindal or
    Michelle Malkin anchor baby.

  6. emjayay says:

    Arbitrary colors like arbitrary capitalization one often sees in wingnut comments. Sometimes LOTS OF CAPITALS, sometimes just Random Capitalization of Various Words.

  7. emjayay says:

    He’s lost weight though and doesn’t look so double chinny now.

  8. Indigo says:

    Speaking of controlling the news, the article in the print Orlando Sentinel “Bush envisioned biotech boom in Fla” is telling, it describes exactly how that all went wrong and the boom didn’t happen. Oh, and it’s not available in the online edition. Imagine that.

  9. Indigo says:

    No, they don’t know we live in a democracy. They don’t know the Lord of the Rings trilogy either. It’s just stupid doing stupid stuff.

  10. Demosthenes says:

    A race to the bottom in pursuit of a plurality of the toothless, ignorant, incurious goobers supporting The Donald”.

    Astonishing, really.

  11. Hue-Man says:

    Maybe they need an intensive Hate Immersion course taught by Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the French National Front. I don’t know if he speaks English so he may have to be translated from French Hate to American Hate.

  12. nicho says:

    With the choice of coloring, I first read it as “Thank you, Jesus for Lord President Trump.”

  13. nicho says:

    With the choice of coloring, I first read it as “Thank you, Jesus for Lord President Trump.”

  14. Houndentenor says:

    I used to think so. But then I really hadn’t heard him speak except on the Schiavo case. (That alone is enough for me to never vote for him for anything!) Most of us not in Florida hadn’t. It didn’t occur to us that anyone could be dumber than Bush. And then Palin came along. There’s a lot below the very low bar W set for public discourse.

  15. Houndentenor says:

    In the pre-TeaParty era, the Republicans serious about getting the nomination would be running as the candidate most likely to beat the Democratic nominee. There was always a danger of the primaries pushing all the candidates too far to the right but thanks to a lazy media culture what was said in the obligatory speech at Bob Jones University and the like was forgotten by the fall. But the TeaParty demands crazier and crazier statements and it’s throwing a monkey wrench into the entire campaign. Yes, Trump is probably not going to get more than 25% of the vote (+/- margin of error) but since many GOP primaries are winner-take all, that may be enough to lock up the delegates for the nomination. We’ve all been thinking that the party leadership isn’t going to let that happen, but Trump seems to be made of Teflon. No matter what crazy shit he says, the numbers don’t go down. (Sometimes they go up.) A lot can happen between now and next March but the way the primaries are stacked, anyone who doesn’t come out of Super Tuesday with the lead or a very close second has no shot at the nomination. The clock is ticking on any plan to discredit Trump before they’re stuck with him.

  16. Naja pallida says:

    Jeb! has all the smarts of George W. Bush, combined with the likability of Mitt Romney, the complete lack of self-reflection of John McCain, and the doddering confusion of a senile Ronald Reagan. It would be sad, if we weren’t required to take his candidacy seriously.

  17. Jon Green says:

    If Jindal were polling above the margin of error, maybe. Given the context, I’m not so sure.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    Lord Gawd/Jeebus, King, King of Hosts, King of Kings, Lord Gawd Almighty etc. and so on….Don’t these dingbats know we live in a Democracy? Or maybe they think America is part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  19. 2karmanot says:

    It is simply inexplicable that Jebbya is considered the intelligent one. Why? He has all the charisma of cold oatmeal. When brother Dubya sent him on a fact finding mission to Indonesia during the tsunami tragedy he lumbered among the devastation and bodies like Uncle Fester looking for truffles. Jebbya has all the gravitas of an amoeba.

  20. iamlegion says:

    I think there’s something that was so subtle (or just incompetently executed) that nobody caught it… by specifying _Asians_ for the “anchor baby” slur, was Jeb! taking a sideswipe at Jindal? He is, literally, an Asian Anchor Baby himself…

  21. Indigo says:

    Jeb can’t even out-Walker Walker, let alone dump his brother What’s-his-name? oh, and the other one too, the one with the killer (!) wife. (I’m talking about Neil and W, you know.) And then there’s his sacred family . . . um, yeah. Poor Nicole, she never did get the attention she needed growing up. And Walker can’t seem to find all his high school trophies any more. Did he ever have any? Was he in Debate Club or something? The smart Republicans have backed away, possibly to their summer places. And the rich Republicans . . . what exactly are they doing? Is there a plan? It doesn’t look like it from where I sit at my laptop.

  22. Indigo says:

    That’s a fair warning. We see where it’s going, we see it clearly. Now what?

  23. nicho says:

    How you know the country is fucked.


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