This weekend, almost two dozen men who held versions of the heavyweight boxing championship will be descending on South Florida . Big names like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Roy Jones Jr. will be in attendance to watch Shannon Briggs, a former champ himself, continue his latest comeback efforts.
One of the former champs in attendance will be Lennox Lewis. While he never proved as popular as Tyson or Holyfield -- both of whom he beat -- Lewis ranks as one of the great heavyweights of the modern era. It was easy to overlook Lewis, a soft-spoken Englishman who played chess. But Lewis was a fierce competitor in the ring and decisively avenged his only two losses in rematches.
Boxing is far more close to Donald Trump’s wheelhouse than it is Jeb Bush’s but the former Florida governor, just like his father and brother, is something of the political equivalent to Lennox Lewis. It’s easy to dismiss the Bushes as patrician, prep school kids but the nice guy images serve to hide the fact that all of them are political brawlers with a killer instinct. That’s something to keep in mind as Jeb Bush gets ready to turn up the heat on Trump in the weeks to come.
Take George H.W. Bush. Behind the often awkward public persona, the first President Bush had a knack for political attacks and, on his way up, he never hesitated to hold back. It was the first Bush who coined the phrase “voodoo economics” to describe Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policies and it helped him win Iowa in an upset, outlasting far better known candidates like John Connally, Howard Baker and Bob Dole in the 1980 election cycle.
Bush honed his instincts during the 1980s. His aggressive performance against Geraldine Ferraro in the vice presidential debate in 1984 raised eyebrows. In the Republican primaries, Bush had no problem throwing verbal barbs with his opponents, sinking Pete du Pont and clearly getting under Dole’s skin. In January 1988, Bush even went after Dan Rather in a tense interview which ended up scoring the vice president points with wary conservatives.
In the general election, Bush went all out against Mike Dukakis. Bush attacked Dukakis on a host of fronts including Willie Horton, the Pledge of Allegiance and Boston Harbor. Having been derided as a “wimp” during most of the 1980s, Bush, guided by Lee Atwater, proved to be a fierce campaigner who had no problem going on the attack.
But something happened once Bush sat in the Oval Office. Some blame Bush’s collapse on Atwater’s death. The weight of office might have changed Bush’s behavior. But, fighting for his political life in 1992, Bush’s attacks fell flat. Pat Buchanan offered a surprisingly strong challenge to the incumbent president in the Republican primaries while Bill Clinton and Ross Perot proved resistant to Bush’s various jabs.
George W. Bush learned from his father’s mistakes. After losing to John McCain in New Hampshire, the Bush team went on the attack, getting nasty against the Arizona senator in the South Carolina primary. Bush also had no problem mixing it up with Al Gore in the general election. While his father might have taken his foot off the gas in his bid for a second term, the second President Bush had no problem going after John Kerry, leading to the “swiftboating” campaign.
Jeb Bush has followed the family legacy. In 1994, he showed no problem in throwing inside on Lawton Chiles and, in 2002, had no problem dismantling Bill McBride. When he threw his hat in the ring, the former Florida governor said he hoped for a “joyful” campaign. But now, way behind Trump in the polls at the national level and in key states, Bush is planning to go on the attack.
Trump, of course, relishes public feuds, something that was evident even before he jumped in the political race. The Bushes might not enjoy these kind of spats as much but, despite the Anover and Yale background, they have proven very effective when they go on the attack. Behind the gentlemanly exteriors, the Bushes are formidable political infighters who don’t pull punches. The next few weeks will be ugly.
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