A still from one of Jeb Bush’s #NoFilter videos. (Photo: Via YouTube)
Jeb Bush’s YouTube page, like that of any other presidential hopeful, is filled with clips that are meant to make him look good. There’s the moment he asked Trump to apologize to his wife during the Sept.16th Republican debate. And there’s an ad detailing his strong economic record in Florida. But then, uh, there’s also that playlist of videos titled #JebNoFilter.
As you might guess from its tragically hip name, the collection of short clips is meant to show off the former Florida governor’s more spontaneous, more human side. Sort of like that time Beyoncé adopted alter ego “Sasha Fierce” to promote her album — only exceedingly less glamorous.
In “Hoodie” — a 30-second clip with over 17,000 views — Bush struggles to put on a souvenir from a startup he visited, pulling its hood over his eyes and grinning widely before saying, “Eat your heart out, Zuckerberg.” In another, he reveals his worst Father’s Day gift — a weight-loss book from his sons — saying it made him feel “offended and embarrassed,” then staring straight into the camera and laughing uncomfortably. In an overproduced video titled “ Silicon Valley Favorites,” Bush answers a series of either/or questions about his favorite technology and reveals, boringly, that he owns several Apple products and prefers #FollowFriday over #ThrowbackThursday. Needless to say, these segments have been excellent fodder for the nation’s Vine-makers.
Jeb’s team may have hoped to project a cool, tech-savvy persona, but misdirected content like this has the opposite effect. Neither crazy enough to be entertaining, or policy-heavy enough to be wonky, they strike a pandering, out-of-touch tone. The 62-year-old grandfather’s message to any discerning young onlooker might as well be, as one YouTube commenter put it, “How do you do, fellow kids?”
Bush, to be fair, is not the only presidential candidate to attempt and fail to seem “fun.” (Just ask the Onion.) But after his tepid performance during the third Republican primary debate and the news that he downsized his campaign spending for a second time, the once-promising GOP contender’s digital presence is more important to his campaignthan ever. Despite his glossy video output, his forthcoming e-book of emails, and a steady flow of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, Bush has failed to garner the kind of onlinegrassroots support that Donald Trump and Ben Carson enjoy.His failure is due not to lack of resources, effort or quality of content, but a ho-hum personal brand and a few damaging viral missteps that have revealed his try-hard inauthenticity.
The Internet, and the highly sought-after millennials who spend a lot of time on it, crave authenticity. As ’s Issie Lapowsky wrote earlier this month, many campaigns mistakenly operate “as if the way to engage a digital-savvy generation of young voters is to talk to them the way they talk to each other.” But, she said, “these young voters see right through it.” Thus, the snickering that greetedJeb’s run-in with a hoodie.
But being a part of the Bush empire leaves the candidate in tricky territory. If young people crave authenticity, then he should just be himself. But that would mean being completely honest about his elite Eastern establishment pedigree, thus evoking his inherent privilege, not to mention the unpopular military decisions of his brother and dad.
To sidestep those challenges, Bush’s team has settled on an image that straddles the line between policy nerd and humble family man, touting his record as Florida governor in ads and testimonials and emphasizing his tech-savvy accessibilitybyteasing a forthcoming e-book of all his emails back and forth to Floridians (even if no millennial will ever read it). But because they seem petrified of a misstep in the current political environment, their strategy often comes off as incredibly bland or strangely out-of-character.
These subtle but telling digital blunders have seriously undercut his cooked-up personal brand. They could be seen in microcosm during the third Republican debate. The candidate’s digital team was present on the majority of mainstream digital avenues: his website featured a well-designed “debate night” page, including small Vox-like card stacks that conveyed basic “facts” about Bush’s views on immigration, education, Planned Parenthood and so on. Subscribers to his email list received a barrage of emails Wednesday night, imploring voters to contribute to his “debate response fund.” His Twitter and Facebook feeds were updated frequently, at a Social Media Manager-Approved™ pace. Bush even posted a decent Instagram, displaying the pair of Jeb-branded “debating boots” he was wearing to the Boulder, Colo., event.