Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Tuesday tweeted the kind of tweet you should never tweet.
It looked desperate. It invited ridicule. It violated campaign dogma that says you shouldn’t try to be someone you’re not just to get some votes.
It also may have been pretty savvy.
Here’s the tweet, delivered yesterday afternoon.
Quickly, and not surprisingly, outrage followed.
Just as quickly, and delightfully, came the meme.
And the obligatory New York Tabloid Cover.
All of which is exactly what you’d expect would happen. Twitter is, after all, notoriously and hilariously unkind. Bush and his social media folks surely know that, so we have to think this was a calculated move.
And we have to say: It’s not such a bad risk.
One: It’s a striking, steely image. It tells voters that wonky, awkward Jeb is more than wonky and awkward. He’s a legit gun owner. He’s a former governor. A former governor who packs. Sure, it could be seen as a clumsy play to conservative South Carolinians, but it also is an efficient, unvarnished display of toughness (contrived or not) that Bush hasn’t been able to achieve with words.
Also, we’ve learned at least one thing in this upside-down election season: Getting attention usually outweighs getting ridiculed. That’s especially true on the Republican side, where the sort-of frontrunner became the undeniable frontrunner after saying he wanted to ban Muslims from coming into the country. He then temporarily lost that frontrunner status to the guy who compared Obamacare to slavery.
That second guy was Ben Carson. Almost forgot about that, right? Exactly.
It’s a just-spell-my-name-right strategy that’s worked again and again in the GOP primaries: Say or do something that, in saner times, would cause the nation’s eyes to saucer. Watch as the hot sun of the news cycle focuses itself on you. Watch your Google search numbers spike.
In a few days, everyone will forget the thing you just said/did, because there will be more crazy to shove it aside.
It’s a tactic that Donald Trump has used beautifully (or, well, not) throughout his campaign. It’s also a tactic the media can’t help but enable, and compared to much of what’s been said this campaign, a tweet of a gun was actually kind of low-risk.
Will it work for Jeb? In a way, it already has.
Peter St. Onge