Ruth: Jeb Bush stays alive in South Carolina

Published Feb. 12, 2016

A few years ago I embarrassed the Marigold of Macy's during a dreadful production of Miss Saigon when I contracted a case of the unconstrained giggles at the most inopportune moment. Miss Saigon was dying. Then she would stop dying for a while and sing some more. Then she would resume dying, only to take a break to offer up an aria or two.

I found this rather amusing. The rest of the audience, many of them in tears, did not.

Failing miserably to control my chortles and with stink eyes sent in my direction, I made a break for the exit. For some strange reason I've been thinking about that long-ago night.

Meet Jeb Bush, the Miss Saigon of South Carolina — the politician who will not die.

Until very recently the former Florida governor has been campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination with all the charisma of Lurch from The Addams Family. His political toe tag was all but a certainty.

Yet there's Jeb gasping his way into South Carolina — still, incredibly, alive. The Bush campaign has become The Revenant of the campaign trail.

How many presidential candidates need to campaign with a mirror under their nose to remind voters they're still breathing? But thanks to a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire just behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Back-Stabbers, Bush grabbed a ticket to South Carolina, even if he had to hitchhike halfway down I-95.

Finishing in fourth place behind one of the most loathed human beings in the U.S. Senate may not exactly be a mandate. But at least Bush managed to finish ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Groundhog Day. That offered some small comfort. While Cruz may be the Senate's answer to Lonesome Rhodes without the whimsy, Rubio is that little boy in grade school who tattled on everyone.

South Carolina offers an opportunity for Bush to finally live up to his self-image as a top-tier candidate. You can't keep finishing back in the pack and insisting you're a political juggernaut. It's a presidential campaign, not a T-ball league where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.

If you can't make a convincing case you are a sequoia of presidential timber compared to an insulting Howdy Doody of demagoguery, a Lone Star state Joe McCarthy lite and the Buster Brown of the Senate, you don't deserve to be elected president of your homeowners association.

While Ohio Gov. John Kasich got a nice bump coming out of New Hampshire with a second-place finish to Donald Trump, the circus peanut of the stump, South Carolina would seem to set up well for Bush.

The former governor has received the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. And let us not forget how well Jeb's big brother, George W., did in winning the 2000 Palmetto State primary after a rather effective smear campaign against John McCain, suggesting the senator had fathered a black child and, oh yeah, was crazy.

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Declasse? Sure. But it worked.

The pressure is building on Rubio to demonstrate he's more than a skipping record with cute boots. It's not a good sign when you show up at your election night "victory party" to celebrate your fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary and admit you looked like a befuddled "Where's Waldo?" when asked for an original thought.

Over on the Democratic side, rumors abounded that Hillary Clinton was pondering shaking up her inner circle of apparatchiks as if they were responsible for attempting to shame women into voting for the former secretary of state. Who was advising Clinton to start issuing Scarlet H's to women who might be Bernie Sanders supporters? Nathaniel Hawthorne?

The Clinton campaign's problem is that it has an awkward candidate. Consider that in New Hampshire exit polling, only 6 percent of voters found Clinton to be trustworthy. Hulk Hogan probably could have polled higher.

Meanwhile, few New Hampshire voters said they believe Trump "shares my values" but he won anyway. Go figure.

That leaves two weeks for Clinton to rebrand herself in South Carolina as a dynamic, honest candidate. She's done it before. Cue Miss Saigon's I Still Believe.