Or so I'm told by Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker of The New York Times:
On Tuesday night, Mr. Bush ... was a feistier and more assertive combatant, demanding more time from moderators, offering flashes of improvised humor and delivering crisper answers than he has in the past.And by Steve Holland and Emily Stevenson of Reuters:
... His gestures were less jangling. His answers were more concrete. He seemed, at times, more commanding.
... in contrast to previous debates, Mr. Bush generated a handful of memorable lines and moments....
A steady performance by Jeb Bush in Tuesday's Republican debate has halted the sense of desperation around his U.S. presidential campaign....Did Jeb really have a "steady" performance? Was he really "feistier" and, "at times, more commanding"? Did he have "memorable lines and moments"?
... the most relieved candidate after the two-hour encounter inside the Milwaukee Theater was Bush....
"I thought the debate went well, and I had a good debate because I got to talk about things with a little substance instead of the cute one-liners," Bush said Wednesday morning on Fox News....
"Jeb Bush was much improved. At a minimum, this buys him more time to reset and try to advance," said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Not in the debate I watched. In that debate, he seems petulant and snappish -- or, more often, like the same whipped dog we've seen throughout the campaign. The Times says he was "assertive"? He had the least speaking time of anyone on the stage. And did he really stop the bleeding, as Politico's Shane Goldmacher and Alex Isenstadt claim? I generally don't trust online polls, but when they ask who won the debate and you're at 1% in the Drudge Report poll, 1% in the Fox Nation poll, and 2% in the Time poll, you didn't have a very good night.
(UPDATE: Google online poll? 3%.)
So why are we hearing that Jeb did well? Because immediately after the debate he employed the spin equivalent of shock and awe. The Times was successfully spun:
In a midnight conference call with donors, Sally Bradshaw, a longtime Bush adviser, summed up the sentiment.As was Politico:
“Gosh, what a difference a week makes,” she said.
... top supporters declared a solid, mistake-free night in Milwaukee enough to wrap a “tourniquet” on a campaign that been bleeding since the last debate two weeks ago.And Reuters:
“There’s always nervous Nellies in every campaign,” said former Sen. Mel Martinez, a Bush supporter spinning for the campaign in Milwaukee. “If they needed it, tonight certainly should have reassured them.”
“Thank God. He stopped the bleeding tonight,” added Ana Navarro, a Bush friend and adviser. “This can be the start of a turn-around if he builds on this solid performance.”
... “I don’t know that you fix all the problems with one debate,” said Martinez. “This is an ongoing deal. This is going to be a long race. He’s in it for the long haul. He’s weathered some difficult days. That showed you something about his character, about who he is and what he’s made of.”
Bush campaign officials, including finance chief Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, offered an upbeat message in a conference call to donors immediately after the debate.So why does this make me fear ... Marco Rubio? Because if Rubio really does get the breaks he needs and manages to win primaries and caucuses, the GOP Establishment spin machine will coalesce around him and go to work on his behalf. When that happens, the press accounts of his debates and other campaign appearances are going to be positively rapturous, because he really is much more politically talented than Jeb, and a steady dose of Bush-level spin will have the press believing that Rubio is the second coming of Kennedy, with a little Reagan thrown in, or maybe Lincoln.
"This is a performance you can sell and help keep the fundraising going," Heather Larrison, a top aide to Bush’s campaign, told the donors, according to one participant on the call.
It would be nice if our political journalists could report what happened and not what the people they have on speed-dial told them happened. But it's naive to imagine that's possible, isn't it?