Bush and Rubio have inevitable clash

No, Jeb Bush’s campaign isn’t close to imploding, and No, Sen. Marco Rubio should not resign from the Senate. But both of them have some explaining to do to constituents and supporters about recent statements and performances on the campaign trail if they want to claim their party’s nomination.

With the election still a year away, the large field of GOP candidates is sorting itself out into frontrunners and also-rans. Both Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio are among the leading candidates based on the amount of money they’ve raised, their prominence in the GOP, and the support they can count on from important segments of the party.

But a confrontation between the two Floridians was ultimately inevitable because they’ll face each other in the all-important state primary on March 15, and only one of them can win.

For the two one-time friends — they deny bad blood between them, but it’s hard to imagine their bitter exchange at the CNBC debate was not honestly felt — it’s a critical time. They’ve become two cats in a bag, whether they like it or not.

Mr. Rubio has pointed out that other candidates from the Senate who ultimately won the nomination had worse attendance records in the Senate than he did and weren’t asked to resign. True. But he has missed more votes than any other senator in this presidential round, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul.

And worse, he seems to have given up on the job that Floridians elected him to do. He must do better if he wants to stay on the public payroll.

His claim of “frustration” with the Senate doesn’t excuse his disdainful attitude. Heck, we’re frustrated, too. So are most Americans. But if he thinks Capitol Hill is frustrating, he ought to stay away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He should ask Barack Obama about frustration with the politics of Washington and dealing with a dysfunctional Congress.

Sen. Rubio also has a perplexing habit of dodging questions he doesn’t like, as detailed in a news story elsewhere in this section of the newspaper. If he has any hope of becoming the nominee, he’ll have to answer challenging questions head-on.

The big surprise in the GOP campaign so far, beyond the popularity of outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson, is the lackluster performance of former Gov. Bush.

Agree or disagree with his politics, Mr. Bush is smart, competent and honest. He was generally an effective governor for two terms. But on stage, he comes across as stiff and ill at ease. He often stumbles over his replies.

The problem is brought into sharp relief when contrasted with Mr. Rubio. Where Mr. Bush fails to look forceful and passionate, Mr. Rubio shines. The consensus among political analysts is that he had his best debate showing last Wednesday and may be ready to replace his former mentor from Florida as the establishment favorite.

“The end is not near,” Mr. Bush told a reporter during a campaign stop a day after the debate. No, it isn’t, but he has to find a way to motivate supporters and fence-sitters who were expecting a better performance. He still has time, but the campaign clock is winding down. The Iowa caucuses are 107 days away.

Beyond the two Florida candidates, it was impossible to ignore how the radicalization of the GOP, so evident in the drama over the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, has seeped into the presidential race.

The default position of all the candidates — possibly excluding Ohio Gov. John Kasich — is demonization of government. This is truly an odd stance for anyone seeking the highest office in the land and raises doubts about why they want to become president.