In the wake of another horrible debate performance where his well-paid staffers did not bother preparing him with any follow-up for his limp zinger at Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush is attempting a re-boot with the odd tagline “Jeb Can Fix It.” It is probably unclear to most whether Mr. Bush is speaking about his own flaccid campaign or the larger issues facing the country. Regardless, based on past performance being an indicator of future results, I would not hold my breath on either account.
The debate debacle was just another in a long list of indignities for the former Florida Governor. The party’s presumed standard bearer when he entered the race, Bush has been pummeled by real estate mogul Donald Trump for months, looked confused and wobbly when predictable questions about his brother’s Administration were raised, and has watched as people with no political experience like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have had their moments in the sun.
Bush is doing what any candidate with deep pockets would do – he has hired a new image consultant, tightened up his stump speech and lowered expectations while underscoring his determination to win. And these are all well and good, but a guy who started out claiming he wanted to be his own man is now leaning almost entirely on his family connections for money, staff, and support. His super PAC may have a nine figure balance in its bank account, but Super PACs cannot pay for the basic needs of office space, travel, staff salaries, and other necessities that campaigns must pay to keep their candidate afloat. Bush’s third quarter fundraising was woeful and his “burn” rate was high, meaning he has little cash on hand to do those things that a campaign needs to pay for. Another poor debate performance and the money may dry up entirely, depriving Bush of the one thing he needs to survive.
While the pundit class is not quite ready to write Jeb off, they are also reluctant to concede three important points:
- The “Bush” name is mud. Whether Republicans will ever admit it or not, their failure to embrace Jeb suggests they acknowledge that the country does not want another Bush in the White House. Jeb! has tried to excise his family’s name, but it is hard to take that seriously while employing nearly twenty of your brother’s high-ranking appointees;
- The Republican Party is deeply conservative in ways it was not prior to 2010. Tax raising, amnesty giving liberal Ronald Reagan would struggle to win in today’s GOP. The combined support of outsiders like Trump, Carson, and Cruz easily eclipses fifty percent and what “establishment” energy exists is flowing toward Rubio as Bush falters;
- It will be hard for Jeb to win early primaries or caucuses. There are four early contests – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Bush is lagging badly in Iowa, New Hampshire handed his brother a 17 point defeat in 2000 and gave Pat Buchanan 37 percent support against Jeb’s dad as a sitting President, South Carolina is basically Antebellum at this point and Nevada is a hotbed of libertarian thought. Even if Bush survives to contest these primaries and caucuses, none favor whatever ideology he is selling. Going 0 for 4 is a one-way ticket to political oblivion.
Of course, when your super PAC is sitting on $100 million and your last name is “Bush,” you cannot be counted out entirely, but the reality is that Right to Rise has run ads for weeks and Bush’s numbers are dropping not rising. The candidate’s uneasiness about his brother and his awful record as President have not changed and he continues to be gaffe prone, as his recent “stuff happens” comment regarding gun violence indicates. Lastly, the GOP electorate itself, in the wake of gains made last night based on hard-right ideology, is more likely to stiffen its opposition to anyone who appears to be part of establishment politics, like the brother and son of two former Presidents.
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