Jeb Bush, the man who once pledged famously/infamously that he would run for president "joyfully," had this to say on the campaign trail in South Carolina on Sunday:

If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want anything -- I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.

So, er, okay.

Although the Bush people sought to downplay those comments — they noted that the strong crowd response he got was the best of the race to date — it's hard not see Bush's frustrations coming through in his take-my-ball-and-go-home comments. He is in the midst of the roughest patch of a campaign that has not gone to plan. After being touted as the front-runner when he got into the race in the spring, Bush has watched his grip on that mantle fade — eclipsed by Donald Trump's bravado, the outsider credentials of Ben Carson and, most galling of all for Bush, the fresh-faced appeal of his onetime mentee, Marco Rubio. He had to make broad-scale campaign cutbacks last week in the face of less-than-impressive fundraising totals over the past three months and remains mired in mid-single digits in most early-state and national polling.

It's not fun to be Jeb(!) — the exclamation point connotes excitement! — right now. Every question he gets from reporters is about why he isn't doing better and whether people just don't like him. You can be SURE that he's getting the same sort of questions from donors, many of whom signed on with Jeb not because they loved him but because they thought he was going to win. And the hard reality of politics — and campaigns in particular — is that when things are going sort of crappily (not a word, but you get my point), you can't just hang out at your house for a few weeks. (And, yes, that is what I do when things are going bad.) You have to keep going out in public and, not just that, but keep acting as though everything is going perfectly for you and you don't have a care in the world.  It's a nightmare.

So, look, Jeb, I get it. But you simply cannot say things like he said in South Carolina over the weekend. This part was especially bad: "I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them." Again, I get the sentiment — Bush doesn't want to run a campaign that's just about trading insults with other Republicans — but the way it comes off is that he is running for office as a favor for the American public and, if it doesn't work out the way he likes it, well, then, he has got far better things to do.

The public wants their candidates to act like running for office is a honor and a privilege. Yes, that means that if you are a good politician, you are going to have to fake it sometimes because, guess what Indianola, Iowa, it's not always fun to wake up at your local Holiday Inn Express on a January morning when the high temperature is going to be 8 degrees. (For the record, Indianola does throw one hell of a balloon festival.) Jeb, it appears, is either tired of faking it or just totally fed up with the state of the race at the moment.

It doesn't really matter why Bush said what he said. All that matters is you can't say stuff like that when you are 1) a candidate for president and 2) your last name is "Bush." People are already ready to believe that you've had too much handed to you in life, so saying the equivalent of "this is hard and I am not winning, so I don't want to do it anymore" is just not very smart.

Jeb needs a moment — and soon — to show he's (to borrow a phrase) in it to win it. The debate Wednesday night is such a moment. If he misses that chance, it's going to get harder, not easier, for him on the campaign trail.

The former Florida governor on the Bush family legacy, the Iraq invasion and more (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)