A lot of work goes into maintaining the happy, hopeful bubble around Jeb Bush.
For starters, he doesn’t read newspapers in his car, and he avoids their websites on his iPhone. As needed, aides will email him news clips, but only after they have been sanitized of the horse race—who’s up, who’s down—he despises. Bad news comes heavily vetted if it comes at all.
When Bush is on the campaign trail, out among the public, it’s harder to filter the information. But he has developed coping mechanisms. When reporters ask about polls, he calls a proverbial 15-yard penalty and loss of down, then refuses to answer. Staffers on the morning briefing call know better than to speak of the latest surveys. During an interview with TIME in early October, he promised not to read this story or any of the other “life-or- death… crapola” about him in the press.
There is a single, defining reason for all this precaution. From the moment Bush began talking last year about a run for the White House, he promised to proceed only if he could “do it joyfully.” That effervescent feeling, prized more by poets than by pols, was always at the center of Bush’s presidential plan—to run with “brazos abiertos,” he says, “open arms”—
bringing victory to a floundering national party amid a message of cultural harmony, reduced taxes, massive economic growth and rainbows.
But joy has been hard to find. He has been mocked by Donald Trump as “low-energy” and hounded for minor gaffes that get blown out of proportion, all while continuing to underperform in the polls. The only candidate with more than $100 million in a war chest and a name that opens any Republican door, Bush sits in fifth place in the national surveys, behind a trio of political novices and his old protege Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
So Bush has chosen to control what he can, which means tuning out most of what goes on around him. “It just doesn’t have the same purpose for me if I was focused on, if I was obsessive about the politics for politics,” he says. “That would take joy from my heart in a heartbeat.”
Happiness is not really the theme of the 2016 GOP race so far—farce and fratricide seem closer to the mark. And the joy that matters most to Jeb does not come especially easy to him. By disposition and instinct, he has far more of his father’s reticent manners than his brother’s cowboy swagger. He calls himself an “introvert” and a “grinder,” two words devoid of glee, and brags of never, ever having taken more than a week’s vacation at a time. There is an aptitude instead for the long haul. Born to privilege, he embraces the humiliations of hard work.
And you can see it on the trail. He has one of the most ambitious campaign schedules of any candidate in the race, beginning with predawn trips to the gym and often ending two states away with late-night donor calls in a hotel room. Sixteen-hour days are the norm, facing small—and sometimes hostile- crowds, who induce regular flubs. He suggested that Americans need to work longer hours, when he clearly meant that Americans need more opportunities. He snapped at a reporter who questioned his use of the term anchor babies. After the latest college shooting in Oregon, he let slip, “Stuff happens,” though he meant that the world is full of obstacles that do not demand government solutions, not that they should be dismissed as unimportant. There are also the awkward ver-
With regular town halls and press
gaggles, Bush often speaks off the cuff,
which has contributed to several gaffes
that have been attacked by Democrats
bal tics, like adding “man” and “brother” at the end of a sentence.
Democratic strategist David Axelrod calls campaigns MRIs for the soul, and Bush says he is content to be who he really is, even as his campaign rejiggers its message to cast him as a Washington outsider ready to knock heads. “Extroverts
BIRTHPLACE: Midland, Texas
SPOUSE: Columba Bush, nee
Columba Garnica Gallo, whom he
met on a high school service trip to
ACTIVITIES: Workout, Mass, golf
(2V2 hours for an 18-hole round) and
LATEST TECH GEAR: Apple
Watch, which replaced his Pebble
smartwatch this year
FAVORITE SEC MASCOT:
University of Florida Gator
YEARS IN ELECTED OFFICE:
migrate to the public arena, but introverts win in the end, brother,” he explains in a conversation with TIME on Oct. 8. “Being focused, being really striving for improvement, being self-aware, not being driven by your own ego but being driven by a mission, I think in the end is a good set of personality traits.” Then he adds, with the slightest hint of mirth, “It is what it is.”
NO ONE EXPECTED A CAKEWALK when Bush jumped into the race last year. Since Barry Goldwater took the nomination in 1964, Republicans have favored insider princes, handing the nomination to the person who had either nearly won last time or seemed next in line. That was the system Bush imagined when he declared in the fall that he would have to prepare to “lose the primary to win the general.” It was the kind of line the GOP establishment loves.
But the GOP establishment turned out to be weaker than anyone expected. Then came Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, a trio of political amateurs promising to channel furies the back rooms could not detect. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders were overthrown for being willing to compromise with Democrats to keep the government functioning, the sort of sensibility that has defined Bush-family politics for generations. Losing the primary—and all that follows—is now very much a real possibility.