The Political Risks Of #JebNoFilter

Aug 5, 2015
Originally published on August 5, 2015 3:36 pm

Jeb Bush is trying to be a straight-talking candidate. He even has a new hashtag — #JebNoFilter — and videos of him expounding on things from hoodies to Sharknado 3.

But that #NoFilter style is getting him in trouble on the GOP campaign trail.

On Tuesday, Bush had the third major gaffe of his campaign so far. Speaking to a Southern Baptist gathering in Nashville, Tenn., Bush was talking about defunding Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos that allegedly show the sale of fetal tissue after abortions.

While all the GOP candidates support defunding the organization, Bush went a step further in an aside: "I'm not sure we need half-a-billion dollars in funding for women's health programs."

Bush later said he "misspoke" and was referring only to Planned Parenthood defunding, not other funds for women's health.

Democrats immediately pounced on the attack ad-ready quote.

It wasn't the first time this cycle that Bush has had to backtrack following an unplanned and ill-advised ad lib. Last month, Bush said that "workers need to work longer hours." His campaign said he was simply referring to underemployed part-time workers who were unable to find full-time work because of the sagging economy.

And earlier this year, Bush struggled to explain how he would have handled the Iraq War — the most controversial decision of his brother's presidency. Initially the younger Bush said that he still would have invaded Iraq "knowing what we know now." Bush finally clarified days later, saying, "I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. ... And knowing what we know now, you know, clearly there were mistakes."

Those who have observed Bush for years say the recent stumbles may be because the candidate hasn't been on the ballot since 2002. He has tried to take a more open approach to his "joyful" campaign — like the videos and participating in frequent interviews — in part, to try to differentiate himself from his brother, former President George W. Bush, and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

It's also an effort to draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton, who has been criticized for not taking many media questions or doing many interviews.

But Bush is dealing with a vastly different, 24/7 news environment than when he last ran for office. Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP strategist, said Bush may be an incredibly smart candidate, but it's still easy to fall victim to the new media landscape. For Bush on Tuesday, that may have been deviating from his standard stump speech and response to Planned Parenthood.

"We live in a world of outrage, social-media politics and it's much harder for him to have a conversation without a pre-canned statement," Wilson said.

But, he admitted, there are risks, like Tuesday's misstep, to trying to be a more open candidate.

"The margins for error are very small for a candidate who is the perceived Republican establishment front-runner," Wilson said. "It's the irony of campaigns — voters say they want the authentic, real candidate — but the process rewards those who are disciplined and speak in soundbites."

Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of political communication, said eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney faced a similar problem in 2012. He stumbled with comments like "self-deportation" for illegal immigrants and his infamous secretly taped statement "47 percent" of Americans didn't pay income taxes and were too dependent on the government.

"First [the media] were beating up on Romney for being this scripted robot," Berkovitz said. "And then, when he tried to be a human being, he'd say things that either came out wrong or could have double meaning. In some says, Bush is the heir to that legacy, the royalty of the GOP. But he has not been in campaign mode for a long time, and it takes a while to get those sea legs back in top trim when it comes to a campaign."

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