OPINION

Opinion: Jeb Bush stumbles again with remarks on Oregon mass shooting

FILE- In this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop in Bedford, N.H. Using Twitter to get a message out is now a must-do for presidential candidates, but looking at the accounts they follow can be instructive, too. Their follow list can reflect not only their personality and interests, but sometimes their strategy. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

FILE- In this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop in Bedford, N.H. Using Twitter to get a message out is now a must-do for presidential candidates, but looking at the accounts they follow can be instructive, too. Their follow list can reflect not only their personality and interests, but sometimes their strategy. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

On Friday, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sparked controversy with his remarks regarding the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon. “We're in a difficult time in our country and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It's very sad to see. I resist the notion," said the former Florida governor. "I had this challenge as governor, 'cause we had, look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

True, “stuff happens” that no political campaign can control, like the rise of Donald Trump or the Republican electorate’s anti-establishment mood. Yet Bush has worsened his standing by creating “stuff” (controversies) on his own.

- Raúl Reyes

The press quickly seized on the phrase “stuff happens” as Bush’s response to the tragedy and the result was a round of negative press coverage, and a rebuke from President Obama. 

The problem here is not just Bush’s words, although they were certainly inelegant. The problem is that his campaign is sinking, and seems to land in the spotlight only for the wrong reasons. The most surprising aspect of Bush’s current political free fall is that he has no one to blame but himself.

The kindest thing that can be said about Bush’s remarks is that they do not make sense. He argues that the government should resist taking action in a time of such a crisis. He seems disinclined to wade into any substantive discussion of gun reform, such as the fact that states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence. Even worse, Bush’s remarks were not a gaffe, nor were they taken out of context. A reporter asked if he had misspoken and Bush responded, "No, it wasn't a mistake. I said exactly what I said. Explain to me what I said wrong."

Asked later to clarify his words, Bush again bungled his response. “A child drowns in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around pools,” he said. “Well, it may not change it… the cumulative effect of this is in some cases, you don’t solve the problem by passing the law, and you’re imposing on large numbers of people, burdens that make it harder for our economy to grow, make it harder for people to protect liberty.” 

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But this tortured explanation does not square with his record. When Bush was Florida’s governor, he signed a bill into law requiring fencing around swimming pools in response to an incident in which a child nearly drowned. So here was a case where “stuff” almost happened, and Bush still took action. 

Bush gets it wrong on policy too, because government regulation often has a positive impact on public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of children who died from accidental drowning fell 42 percent between 1993 and 2008, thanks to legislation and public safety efforts. And since our country passed laws mandating seat belt use and harsher penalties for drunk driving, traffic fatalities have fallen.     

Unfortunately, Bush’s comments are one of many self-generated stumbles. He has drawn criticism for suggesting that women’s health issues are over-funded, and offended Latinos with his use of the term “anchor babies.” His remark that to grow the economy “people need to work longer hours” was another blunder. Most recently, he implied that African-Americans vote Democratic because of “free stuff.” 

No wonder he is sliding in the polls. 

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Bush has fallen to seventh percent, putting him in fifth place. This is a dramatic decline for a scion of a political dynasty who entered the race as the GOP’s presumptive front-runner.

Bush’s misstep also highlights the fact that gun control is an issue where he is out of sync with Latino voters. Research from Latino Decisions shows that 84 percent of Latinos favor background checks on gun sales, and 69 percent want a national database of gun owners. More than half of Latinos (54 percent) want to ban semi-automatic weapons. A Pew study found that only 29 percent of Latinos believed that gun rights were more important than the need for gun control. Bush's latest round of headlines just reminds Latinos of a potential reason not to vote for him.     

True, “stuff happens” that no political campaign can control, like the rise of Donald Trump or the Republican electorate’s anti-establishment mood. Yet Bush has worsened his standing by creating “stuff” (controversies) on his own. If nothing else, Bush should realize that as president, he would have to help comfort the nation during times of tragedy – and “stuff happens” is an astonishingly tone-deaf response to a horrific crime. Imagine how that would sound to the family of Lucero Alcaraz, 19, a Latina who died in the attack.       

Bush’s response to the Oregon shooting was insensitive and thoughtless. If “stuff” continues to happen, his presidency may not. 

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.

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