Jeb Bush earned himself an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association when he was governor of Florida by signing a score of gun-friendly bills into law, including Stand Your Ground. But his strong record on guns will go down as one of the many credentials that Bush brought to a presidential campaign that never connected with conservative Republican primary voters. After another disappointing finish on Saturday in South Carolina, the candidate who began the 2016 campaign as his party’s presumptive frontrunner pulled himself out of the race, having spent $368 for each of the 92,000 votes he won in the duration of his ill-fated bid.
As on other issues, Bush’s failure to successfully play the gun-rights card was not for a lack of trying. Below, selections from campaign theme that never caught on.
- In November, Bush pens an op-ed in The Iowa Republican about his gun record, proclaiming: “I stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field in fighting on this important issue and I can’t wait to expose the folly of Hillary Clinton’s gun-grabbing agenda.” The column did little to help his showing in the February 1 Iowa caucus.
- In December, Bush’s campaign puts out a robocall to Iowa voters in an attempt to target Republican caucus-goers likely to be passionate about gun rights. “As president I will respect your individual freedoms and your Second Amendment rights,” Bush says on the call, “but in order to do that I need your help and support in Iowa.” Iowa caucus goers are again unmoved.
- On multiple occasions on the campaign trail, Bush talks about receiving the NRA’s “Statesman of the Year” award while governor of Florida — until Buzzfeed discovers that such an award actually does not exist. A spokesman for the Bush campaign clarifies that Bush has “mistaken and conflated” multiple events when claiming to have received the prize.
- In January, the Bush campaign announces the formation of his “Sportsmen’s Coalition” for gun rights, to “help spread Jeb’s message about the importance of hunting and fishing traditions and protecting the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens.” While Bush’s campaign boasts about the coalition on his website and says he promote the initiative while campaigning in Iowa, it receives little traction with both the press and the public.
- During another January stop, Bush campaigns at a firearms factory in New Hampshire, one of the many gun-centric locations he will visit as a candidate. He uses the event to try to draw a contrast with Donald Trump, saying Republicans “need someone who will try to build consensus” on the gun issue. While vowing not to compromise on gun rights, he argues that with adequate consensus surrounding mental health issues, a deal could be reached. (He does not advance mental health proposals that might accomplish this.)
- Four days before the South Carolina Republican primary, Jeb tweets a picture of an FN pistol engraved with his name, captioned simply “America.” The tweet is roundly mocked as journalists raise questions about the brand of gun Bush chose to showcase. The company is based in Belgium, and the weapon has a sordid history of being the gun of choice for some Mexican drug cartels.
- In an another attempt to woo Second Amendment voters in South Carolina, the Bush campaign takes to the airwaves. In radio ads, Bush says, “I have a message for the Obama administration: Why don’t you focus more on keeping weapons out of the hands of Islamic terrorists and less on keeping weapons out of the hands of law-abiding Americans?” Bush finishes the primary in a distant fourth place.
[Photo: AP Photo/Matt Rourke]