Donald Trump, Jeb Bush Seen Tangling Near Jungle Gym at Lunch

Is this a presidential race, or third-grade recess?

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall style meeting at La Progresiva Presbyterian School on September 1, 2015 in Miami, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At this same point in the 1988 campaign—the one so devoid of substance it inspired a book about “the trivial pursuit of the presidency”—candidates from both parties were preparing for separate debates in North Carolina on education policy.

Fourteen months before the 2016 vote, another school-related question is emerging:

Is this a presidential race, or third-grade recess? 

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In just one month, the Republican contest has leap-frogged from talking past each other on an overly crowded debate stage to questioning each other’s metabolism and grooming, skipping right over that part of the campaign where you compare and contrast—what are those things again? Oh yes—issues.

You can sense glee (along with a bit of hyperbole) in some quarters about the “all-out war” that’s getting “even nastier” between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump—the political pro who is supposed to win the Republican nominating contest, and the rich guy who’s actually leading it. 

Seriously, though—Trump’s supposed germophobia? Bush’s energy level and ability to speak Spanish? With such ammunition being expended now, what powder will possibly be left on the eve of the election in November 2016?

We can thank social media for abetting this asocial behavior, since attacks via Instagram and Twitter are highly cost-effective, leaving millions for television attack ads as the campaign goes on.

Also on Bloomberg Politics: Donald Trump Just Signed His Political Death Warrant

Trump’s outsider bombast—and the unexpectedly broad public support it has drawn—was bound to rewrite the rules of the Republican contest, compressing the nice-to-meet-you stage to a few precious weeks.

What even Trump can’t control is the broader image of the Republican Party.

Now might be a propitious time for the GOP to recognize that among the last things it still has to protect—at least until it comes up with a fresh set of policies that are more than saying “no”—is a grownup image worthy of the presidency.

By taking the bait from, let’s face it, a megalomaniac he can’t envision being the nominee, Bush, the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment, risks surrendering that, too.

Which brings us back to elementary school, where our next generation of voters is being taught how to deal with bullies.

One strategy lays out a three-step process that Bush could employ: Stop (“Quit it, Donald”), walk away, and talk to an adult.

Which is probably where Ben Carson comes in.

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