Watch out conservatives. Jeb Bush is in this to win this and he just might. I met privately with Governor Bush at CPAC. He struck me as far more polished than many of the other candidates and he clearly recognizes the quality, however superficial it might be to some, of looking the part.
More interesting, I have a ton of friends who like him. They all have one thing in common. They are Christians. They appreciated the sincerity of his brother's faith and they appreciate his as they perceive it reflected in his demeanor, his soft language on immigration, and his position of Schiavo back in the day.
Don't shoot the messenger. I'm just telling you. At the same time, a lot of major donors tell me that they think we do not need another Bush and they view him as the second coming of Romney. Major donors who I thought would go in early with Bush are looking instead at Scott Walker.
That leads me to Walker and a problem. He is not polished yet. There is time, but he needs a lot of work. Two events happened over the weekend. CPAC and the Club For Growth had their conferences at the same time. I, regrettably, could not be at the Club For Growth conference where I intended to be. I had to be at CPAC. But I kept my ear to the ground.
Bush had a far more impressive performance than Walker. Walker seemed like he crammed for the exam and it showed. His answers fell flat in several areas. The benefit Walker has that Bush does not have is that donors are willing to give him time to get it together.
Someone donors are not giving time to get it together is Rick Perry. He gave a great speech at CPAC. He was well received. He surprised me thoroughly by showing up to give me an award. Everyone I talked to thought Perry and Rubio both helped themselves the most. But the "oops" moment lingers for Perry and a great many people seem ready to move on. Perry is going to have to find a way to stand out, but should use Christie and Jindal as cautionary notes.
Jindal is, perhaps, the most substantive of any of the candidates. He is a healthcare expert. He has a free market record in Louisiana. And he is throwing rhetorical bombs to get noticed. He is getting noticed, but not in a way that helps him with large donors. And rhetorically he is competing for a segment of the voting Republican base that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has a large hold on. I think Jindal has a path forward, but the one he has chosen degrades all his accomplishments and leaves him looking less than the bright light he is.
It is as if Jindal has decided to play the role of Chris Christie while Christie is trying to be Jindal. Christie came to the stage as the in your face Tony Soprano bomb thrower. His townhalls and arguments are infamous. But now he wants to be the Jindal policy wonk on stage showing he cares. Jindal going Christie works as well as Christie going Jindal, which is to say it does not.
Then there is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Ted, I love ya, but your CPAC shtick fell flat. I realize you could not hear it through the Cult of Personality cheering, but it is true. It was a power point presentation of one liners designed to get the crowd roaring. You could hear the carousel projector shifting slides with each pregnant pause on to the next cliche and one liner. Contrast Cruz's CPAC performance with his Club for Growth performance. It was dazzling, detailed, on offense instead of defense, and showed Cruz has a grasp of facts many of the candidates lack. It was a very solid performance and I have heard nothing but positives about it, making his CPAC performance all the more striking.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) really helped himself tremendously. Rubio remains a wild card for me because he connects with the average voter better than any other candidate running. Objectively, Rubio does. Watch him with a large crowd. Watch him with a small crowd. Watch him one on one. All the candidates bring up Reagan. Rubio comes closest to Reagan's ability to connect using a positive, pro-America message. But I think Rubio would be better served running for re-election, then Governor, then President.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all have the same issue. For six years the right has told America we made a mistake hiring a one term Senator for President. So it is going to be awfully hard to say the GOP should nominate a one term senator. That's just the truth.
Paul is an interesting one. The contrast with Santorum was impressive. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) brings in young voters. He can rally them and mobilize them. He gave a solid speech. But Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)'s time seems to be in peace and not at war. We are headed into the foreign policy election I predicted we'd have in 2012. It came late, but it came. And the country is actually willing to trade its freedom for its security, which means Paul is a nonstarter in a time of international tension. He makes people feel good. He makes people feel proud. He does not make people feel safe.
Santorum, I'm not sure, makes people feel anything. By the time Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was done and Santorum came out, the hair color at CPAC went from blue by design to blue by virtue of being a senior citizen. It was not a good contrast and highlighted Santorum as an also ran competing with Jindal and Huckabee for evangelical voters.
Between Santorum and Huckabee, Huckabee connects better. He checks the box on "we need a governor," whether or not we do. He checks the box on "could win his home state," which Santorum cannot do with a straight face. And he checks all he other boxes Santorum can check, leaving Santorum without a path or a message that cannot be carried better by Huckabee.
We have the most solid field of candidates we have had in a long time. The depth of the field in its experience is profound. The media is going to begin the slow assault on the Republicans' lack of foreign policy experience, which it never did against Barack Obama. But it is as easily overcome as Reagan against Carter in the midst of a hostage crisis.
If conservatives rally by December, Jeb Bush will not be the nominee. But if conservatives fracture headed into Iowa and New Hampshire, the nominee will be Bush. He will have the fundraising ties even without a lot of the major donors. After all, his last name is Bush. Conservatives are on notice.