Jeb Bush spent about $25,000 for every vote he got in Iowa. He outspent everyone just to stay barely competitive. He came in sixth place, behind Rand Paul (who may or may not be wondering whether risking his own Senate seat is worth it at this point), which is a frankly embarrassing finish for someone who spent so much.
Why is Jeb Bush still in the race? At this point, it’s hard to imagine him coming out any better than fifth in New Hampshire, where he will be competing with a much stronger than anticipated Marco Rubio, as well as Chris Christie and John Kasich, each of whom is vying for the Establishment vote, and the looming specter of a Donald Trump with everything to lose after last night.
What is Jeb’s endgame? At what point does “Lose the primary to win the general?” seem like a really foolish plan (it is a foolish plan, Jeb)? We’ve known for months that Jeb was anything but inevitable, but now that “not inevitable” looks suspiciously like “no chance in hell.”
Consider his memo to staff after last night:
“The real race for the nomination begins on February 9th in New Hampshire,” the campaign wrote in a “talking points” memo sent to advisers and high-profile supporters. “It will set the race going forward and today, Jeb Bush is in a very strong position in the state.”
It goes on to add: “The Jeb 2016 campaign has never made Iowa a centerpiece to winning the nomination. We have long viewed Iowa as just one of 56 contests, electing 30 delegates out of 2,472 going to the Convention to select our nominee.”
Surrogates are then reminded that in November a “strategic decision” was made to “shift resources away from Iowa.” Bush’s time in Iowa, it notes, was “significantly scaled back.” In December and January, it says, Bush “went 40 days without visiting Iowa.”
You know who else did not make Iowa a centerpiece of his campaign strategy? Marco Rubio. Yet, Bush’s former protege outperformed expectations and came out in a very close third place behind Donald Trump. Strategic or not, with all the publicity behind the 2016 race for the nomination, it can now be seen as a major strategic folly for Bush to have abandoned Iowa outright in favor of east coast elites he has heavy competition for – again, including the aforementioned protege, Rubio.
This is a very critical week for Jeb, who has one week to make his case that someone who abandons the campaign trail in one state, plummets in the polls, performs poorly against a bombastic liberal masquerading as a Republican, and attacks with the ferocity of a stoned guinea pig is worth their vote.
If he can’t, it’s over. Perhaps a re-evaluation of his race is in order now.