Jeb Bush’s “I Eat Nails When I Wake Up” Tough Talk Just Reinforces His Weaknesses

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Former Florida Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush can’t seem to catch a break. His sagging poll numbers and his lackluster debate performances repeatedly highlight the weakness of his candidacy, for all to see. Worse yet, every time Jeb tries to reboot his campaign to reassure voters that he is tough and ready, he ends up tripping over his own shoelaces. Bush’s latest clumsy gambit came in a interview with Mark Halperin, where Bush tried to assert what a manly man he really is, by boasting:

I eat nails when I wake up, then I have breakfast.

Now if he had actually swallowed a box of nails, then spit one out like a dart into the camera filming him, his line might have grabbed people’s attention. But of course, he was not being literal; it was a metaphor. Unfortunately, for Jeb, it was not a metaphor that projected strength, but rather one that reminded voters that Bush is a desperate candidate trying to resurrect his image as a “tough as nails” conservative.

The problem is “movement conservatives” have never viewed Jeb Bush as a true conservative who will fight for them to begin with. Sure he tried to appease conservatives by his bungled handling of the Terry Schiavo controversy, but aside from that instance, right-wingers have always regarded Bush as something of a “squish” who can’t be trusted.

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In that context, Bush saying he eats nails in the morning, comes across as trying way too hard. Like 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis riding around in a tank hoping to look strong, only to come across appearing as an overcompensating wimp, Jeb’s assertion that he devours nails as appetizers before he pours his milk and Cheerios, is equally silly. Ironically, Jeb’s faux masculinity seems to mirror Mike Dukakis’ macho fail, rather than replicating the success of his daddy’s campaign to beat Dukakis.

Toughness and masculinity are poor standards to use when selecting a president, as they play into patriarchal notions of strength, that bear little relevance to the necessary skills needed to be a successful political leader. Nevertheless, GOP voters often seem to be persuaded by overt expressions of masculinity. The problem for Jeb, is that his attempts to project toughness, do nothing of the sort. He doesn’t eat nails at sunrise, but he is driving nails deeper into his failed presidential campaign, and his political career is lurching towards sunset in a hurry.