Jeb! is no more.
Of course, Jeb Bush the man lingers on, even after he put his massively disappointing and weirdly punctuated presidential campaign out of its misery after finishing sixth in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire, and fourth in South Carolina. But after his shellacking in the 2016 race, few will care about Jeb — or the Bushes. Politically, he is a spent force. Through his fruitlessly awkward and then vindictively prideful thrashing, his campaign, and the Right to Rise spending operation associated with it, managed to wipe out Jeb's considerable influence within Republican circles and beyond.
The damage does not end there. Philosophically, Jeb Bush reminded Republicans of the one thing they had most hoped to forget: Bushism is a problem.
George W. Bush, hauled away from his cherished peace and quiet and painting, came to South Carolina to give his brother’s White House dream a decent burial. But neither Jeb nor Dubya can put the skeletons of the latter’s two terms back into the ground where the former haplessly disinterred them. As Donald Trump realized, many Republican voters are ready for someone — anyone — to seize upon the humiliations of the Bush years, drag them into the light, name and shame them, and demand as clean of a break as possible.
That is why Jeb lost South Carolina; that is why his campaign is finished; that is why Trump romped to another victory; and that — on closer inspection, the real story of the night — is why Marco Rubio’s dream of beating Ted Cruz for second place should turn into a nightmare.
For with Bush out, it is clearer than ever that Rubio is the real Bush in the race. Having already betrayed Jeb, he is now well on his way to shivving George P. Bush, the actual Latino heir to the family dynasty. It is Rubio who has embraced Dubya and his frightfully damaged legacy as if it were the greatest inheritance of all, and Rubio who channels Bush’s cocky and Christian compassion more than anyone else in the field. Rubio, more than anyone, would set out to follow in Bush’s foreign policy footsteps. Rubio, one feels, has already memorized his rousing address unveiling his signature guest worker program.
And in the greatest reminder of W.’s stubbornness, Rubio seems unwilling to believe that he has now been taken host by the problem that Bushism is. Team Rubio, buoyed along by its staunchest supporters, seems intransigent in its conviction that the Trump insurgency is fueled by human scum, which must only be scraped off the bottom of the party boot heel for the GOP to be rid of them forever. There is zero awareness that the base has come unglued at last from the loyalty to the Bush years it has labored under for so long. Worse, there is not even an intuition that just a little repudiation could go such a long way.
Is there a way of getting through to Rubio before Jeb’s fate befalls him too? Probably not. Rubio, already the prisoner of a hubris feedback loop that demands and rewards increasingly messianic behavior, believes that he has eliminated not only Bush but Cruz from contention. If he can beat Cruz in evangelical-rich South Carolina, he can beat him anywhere! John Kasich, meanwhile, strikes Team Rubio as ridiculously un-Bush — a '90s-era process guy given to quasi-pantheistic free association and a bro-hug take on the soft humility Bush politically discarded after 9/11.
So here is Rubio, oblivious to the danger of talking as if we aren’t already 15 long and bitter years into the 21st century. At a time when more Republicans than ever are calling out for fundamental reform, abandoning the Bush legacy, he's offering a change in generations that would change nothing else.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.