If George W. Bush won two presidential elections in part because he was the candidate you'd rather have a beer with, brother Jeb is shaping up as the candidate who better not have a beer with you.
While bingeing on donor dough, Jeb has been purging doughnuts and other comfort foods from his daily fare, as per the strictures of the Paleo diet. That's allowed the GOP's most prodigious bringer home of bacon -- estimates are that he's raised tens of millions before the race has officially begun -- to shed some 30 pounds faster than you can say "pancake breakfast."
Jeb, always the pudgy Bush, was wise to trim down a bit. But the man who describes himself as "always hungry" looks more gaunt than lean. According to press reports, the regimen that makes a bite of blueberry pie a "cheat" makes him grumpy.
You'd be a grump too if you faced months of slogging through feeding frenzies in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina against as many as two dozen rivals -- after your campaign roll-out failed to stir the "shock and awe" your advisors predicted would clear the field. (Jeb ought to fire whoever resurrected the shockingly awful phrase so evocative of his brother's catastrophic presidency.)
We don't love our presidents for the foods they eat, but we do remember them for the foods they loved. Who can forget Lyndon Johnson's fondness for Fresca and tapioca pudding, Richard Nixon's penchant for bombarding his cottage cheese with ketchup, or Ronald Reagan's jar of jelly beans?
The two Bush presidencies, however, are perhaps better known for foods eschewed. George H. W. Bush, Jeb's dad, proudly proclaimed his hatred of broccoli; more to the point, he famously tossed his cookies at the home of the Japanese prime minister in 1992. And while W liked to curl up with a pretzel, he gave the White House staff a scare when he choked on one and fainted while watching football.
The New York Times says Jeb's denial of the pleasures of the palate "runs the risk of putting him at a dietary distance from an American electorate that still binges on carbohydrates and, after eight years of a tea-sipping president, craves a relatable eater-in-chief."
That's silly. President Obama is naturally lean and athletic, but he seems to be a reasonably normal eater who enjoys the occasional Five Guys cheeseburger, perhaps even followed by a clandestine cigarette.
Jeb's obsession with coffer-filling at the expense of effective flesh-peddling led The Hill's A.B. Stoddard this week to describe his candidacy as all money and no mojo. If he really wants to be president -- if his obsessions with fund-raising and weight-losing don't mask a deep ambivalence about running the grueling race for the White House -- maybe he should put his guilt on the back burner and scarf down a few slices of pizza. He'll look and feel better. Plus, research shows that most obsessive dieters gain back all the weight they lost and then some.
Finally, can't Jeb see that an overweening interest in diet is irretrievably blue state? Think Michelle Obama's vegetable gardens or Michael Bloomberg's ill-fated attempts to ban gas-tank-sized soda in New York City (the state's highest court banned the ban). Imagine what a few pounds could do to persuade Chris Christie's followers -- or Mike Huckabee's -- to throw their weight behind a moderately ampler Bush candidacy.