During the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, there was a softball question lobbed at Jeb Bush about Marco Rubio's (senator from Florida) voting record in the Senate. Rubio has missed a lot of votes in the Senate since he announced his run for the president. Recently, Sun Sentinel newspaper in Oralando, Florida urged Rubio to resign in an editorial if he can't do the job for which he was elected.
When this question came up, Jeb Bush made the classic mistake of regurgitating the facts about Rubio's past voting record. The was a big mistake since you don't want to focus on the past if there is nothing you can do about it. Bush can't make Rubio cast votes if Rubio does not want to do it. People elected Rubio and people will have to make the decision on his future. In Rubio's case, he is not running for the re-election to the Senate, so it is a mute point. Instead, Bush should have focused on the position that Rubio is running for and use his voting record to raise doubt about his interest to serve people or to satisfy his ego. Bush should have focused on the future since he has much latitude to craft a solid argument and something that would resinate with people. And also it would allow him to differentiate from Rubio. Bush swung and missed badly.
Against this backdrop, when Rubio got his turn to respond he brushed Bush's criticism as nothing unusual since others who were running for the president such as John McCain and Barack Obama did the same thing. Bush had no comeback or even tried to interrupt. Just based on this one exchange, whether it's fair or not, Rubio was declared the winner of the debate and Bush the big loser of the debate. For Bush this was a major fail since he let Rubio escape, But what made Bush's situation weak is that he can't bring it up anymore since Rubio already addressed it in front of millions of people.
He should have prepared to win the debate and not just to show up and answer few questions. It appeared that Bush had no pre-game strategy, and Rubio did. On the stage, Bush was thinking and Rubio wasn't. Rubio looked well rehearsed. Bush made people think whereas Rubio didn't. When you are competing on stage, and you make people think too hard, they are going to tune you out. Bush obviously is comfortable in setting where he has a lot of time to explain things. Unfortunately, the debate is not one of those places.
Is this fair? No, but this is the social media world we live in today where people's sentiments can change so quickly. People no longer care that much about politician's resume but how well they perform in media and debates. Bush still thinks that resumes at the end win elections. After the debate, when interviewed by CNN's Dana Bash, he said, "I'm running for president of the United States. I'm running with heart. I'm not a performer. If they're looking for an entertainer-in-chief, I'm probably not the guy.”
Bush said he wished he had gotten questions on entitlement challenges, debt, jobs, etc. Instead, he got a question on fantasy football. Though he did not get the questions he wished were asked, Bush should have done what Kasich did. When asked about his weakness, Kasich did not answer the question and went on to attack both Trump and Carson. Bush looked like he has never run for a political office before and comes from a family that have never won a presidential election.
The funny thing is that elder Bush lost his re-election on a question about how the national debt has affected him personally, and it would be ironic if Jeb Bush may have lost the Republican nomination on a question as innocuous as fantasy football. Both did not know how to answer a simple question during a debate.
When asked by Dana Bash in the post-debate interview to use the time to tell people what he stood for, here is what Bush said: "I have the most comprehensive plans to create a 4% growth economy. I know how to fix the broken parts of Washington---the corruption and [the inefficiencies]...We reduced the government force by 11%. No one thought it was possible. I cut taxes every year...We created 1.3 million jobs...We led the nation in small business creation. All of this is important, and that's how we are going to rise as a nation." The problem is that Bush did not say this or assert himself and the general feeling was that he lost the debate and may not recover.
I don't agree with what Jeb Bush said that his resume speaks for itself. Unfortunately, resumes are cold, but performance is hot. Bush does have a stellar resume, but it is performance what people remember. Bush evidently has forgotten this or does not think he needs to perform anymore. Many will blame his advisers, but it is the candidate who is responsible for his poor poll numbers. If he is getting bad advice, then he has to make changes. I think Bush's problem is himself.
During the pre-game, Bush should have telegraphed to the Rubio camp that he was going to bring up Rubio's record at the debate to get Rubio to prepare for what was going to occur. Bush should be pointing out the facts about Rubio's record and make a big deal about it before the debate goading the media to ask the question. Make it easier for media so they don't have to think too hard to come up with questions. Bush should have build this up to anticipate a potential confrontation with Rubio.
Meanwhile, Bush should have prepared to do something Rubio could not prepare for is to change the game. Bush should not focus on Rubio's voting like he did before the debate, but use the record to compare Rubio to Obama. No Republican wants to be compared to Obama. Bush should have said that Obama after being elected senator started running for the president. Like Rubio, Obama lost interest in his Senate job. After becoming president, Obama is more focused on his golf game than improving the economy and making the world stable. And then conclude with a zinger that we can't have another four years of Obama, who never finished the job he had and was totally unprepared for the job as the president. He could have closed with the following: "Look if people want another four years of someone not ready for the job, then Rubio is your man."
Bush also needed the last word if Rubio attacked him. Bush could have reinforced the Obama comparison. If Republicans liked Obama, then they will love Rubio since he is following the Obama playbook to the teeth. Put Obama around Rubio's neck and drop the mic.
Rubio no matter how great a debater he is can't answer this well during the debate without saying that Obama is a great president that he is not going to do. It would have put Rubio on defensive. Bush should have checkmated him on this question. Also, Bush could come back and keep hitting him with this over and over for a long time. The way Bush answered the question, he can't do much now since it is no longer an issue that will generate any buzz in the media or on social media. Today you are what social media says you are and for people who have to craft an image it is very important. Bush looked defeated in the CNN interview afterward.
The good news for Bush is that there are still a lot of candidates in the race since he has taken such beating by the media that his expectations are low that he is poised for a comeback. But he will not make any kind of comeback unless he understands how debates and arguments are won today in the social media world we live in.
Bush is highly qualified, but if you can't debate well, your excellent resume can be quickly neutralized by one bad debate performance. Bush and his advisers don't understand this and now are in deep trouble. You often only get one chance to play the game. But before you play the game, you do need a solid pre-game and a good post-game. If you take care of all parts of the game, then you can win in debates, job interviews, Q&A, business, and in life.