Jeb Bush's Dog, Explained

The Republican's canine fixation gets him in deep.
Photographer: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

As you might have noticed by now, sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what Jeb Bush means. And on Wednesday the confusion forced the governor to state his opposition to human-eating dogs.

Describing his vision of America in which entrepreneurialism is unchained from government regulation, Bush said in Oskaloosa, Iowa that he wants to “let the big dog eat.” It’s a phrase the former governor uses on occasion, and that he insists is a North Florida colloquialism (not unlike, we assume, the one about the old he-coon that helped doom his 1994 gubernatorial campaign).

But the phrase was lost on some in his audience, including one man who later asked Bush to explain what he meant.

“It means releasing the animal spirits of this country, how about that?” Bush said, doing little to clear things up.

“This country is extraordinary,” Bush continued. “And it’s because we have this unique ability to take risks, to innovate, to try different things, to dust ourselves off, two-steps-forward one-step-back. We’re a dynamic country and we’re losing our dynamism. That’s what I meant.”

The man was unconvinced. What about big banks that give Americans high-interest credit cards, he asked. “That’s kind of a big dog eating,” he said.

“I wasn’t talking about big dogs eating other people,” Bush said. “I had a big dog, and he didn’t eat anybody. He was the most loving dog in the world. But he got off the porch once in while, you know what I’m saying? He didn’t get in line, he did whatever he wanted to and he tried different things. And that’s... come on. Give me a break here on that.”

Whether voters give a break to the son and brother of former presidents remains to be seen.

While this particular exchange a light-hearted moment during the second of two town-halls Bush held on Wednesday that had many laughing in the crowd of about 150 people at Smokey Row Coffee, the governor's unique speaking style has at times caused him problems. That's led to a narrative that, fairly or not, Bush is prone to stepping in it.

Bush himself acknowledges that his public speaking skills sometimes fail him, and he’s trying to turn that deficiency into an advantage. After the first two days of a three-day swing through Iowa, Bush has repeatedly asked voters to compare his record as a “doer” in Florida to the “talkers” he’s competing against in the Republican nomination.

But don’t lower your expectations too far on the former governor. So far, he hasn't gone to the dogs the way Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, famously did. And he can still deliver a zinger from time to time. Asked by reporters on Wednesday about comments he made in 2012 that Rubio had more experience than Obama and would make a good vice presidential pick for Romney, Bush didn’t waiver.

“He did and he still does, that’s for sure,” Bush said. “That’s a low bar though.”

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