Last week I posted on the the devastating Florida poll that showed Jeb Bush as fourth place and in single digits in his home state. I also posted on how his fundraising profile is dangerously skewed towards large donors who have already maxed out their campaign contribution. This all followed a decision by the Bush campaign to cut staff, cut staff salaries, and generally pare back expenses. The next sign of flopsweat setting in was the come-to-Jesus conclave held in Houston this weekend featuring two former presidents and all the big Bush bundlers. The outcome of that meeting seems to point even more strongly to Jeb Bush withdrawing from the race.
But many of the bundlers who have attended the campaign’s quarterly summits (the group met in Miami in April and at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine in July) are looking less for motivation this time and more for tangible evidence that the product they’re investing in is going to pay dividends.
“At this point, it’s not about motivation. All the people I know have already given,” said one Washington, DC-based donor who spoke privately. “The people who are left are momentum people and they need to see that this is a train that’s going somewhere.”
This exercise in nostalgia, always meant to propel a third Bush candidacy, is instead laying bare how a family held in such high esteem by generations of Republicans no longer represents the party it once led. The few hundred well-heeled Bush-backers here Sunday night are a world apart from conservative voters who have become so resistant to dynastic politics and the GOP’s establishment and donor class.
Actually, the people that are left are the 90+ of the GOP and nation who are not in favor of Jeb Bush’s candidacy. What is more striking and more indicative of just how out of touch the donor class is with the electorate:
Many of these dedicated Bush supporters are no longer denying that the guest of honor is unable to connect with a GOP electorate that has become increasingly fractured and stridently ideological since — and in reaction to — his brother’s presidency. And increasingly, donors say they are no longer certain the Bush family can pull Jeb’s campaign out of its downward spiral
The advent of the Tea Party and the GOP’s hard lurch to the right, the rejection of the politics of compromise and the diminishing clout of the RNC and the party as a whole all are all developments of the post-George W. Bush era. And all are phenomena impeding Jeb Bush’s path to the Republican nomination.
“I look at this party now and I hardly recognize it,” one Florida-based donor said. “I never would have thought there would be so much mistrust of the establishment that we would prefer candidates who are angry over those who can actually lead.”
The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging you have a problem. The problem here is not that the electorate and party have changed but rather we are, for the first time, seeing the Emperor’s new clothes. We are seeing the people who believe they are entitled to lead — ‘rule’ is actually the word they would like to use — do nothing but propose the same tired old solutions because that is the way that it has always been done. Quite honestly, if you aren’t angry you either haven’t been paying attention or you are part of the problem.
Bush may be on the verge of calling it a day:
Bush, betraying his own frustration with the state of the race and Trump’s lead, raised eyebrows on Saturday by offering what sounded like an exit narrative. “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke,” he said in South Carolina. “Elect Trump if you want that.”
The organization looks to be reacting as any other large, underperforming, complacent organization does when confronted with existential threat. They have meetings and hope:
Bush’s team downplayed the comment and dismissed the idea that he was thinking at all of dropping out at any point. Meetings have been scheduled with senior staffers for Monday morning, aimed at allaying these anxieties.
But whatever the root causes of the campaign’s troubles are — a populist drive among voters, Trump’s celebrity, a field too large for an establishment contender to stand out, or simply a weak front-man — some resignation is setting in among staff and supporters.
“It’s a question that’ll answer itself,” said Fred Zeidman, a long-time Bush bundler based in Houston. “Either the numbers keep going down and you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do; or the numbers will eventually improve, which is what we’re all counting on.”