Over at The Week, columnist Michael Brendan Dougherty has a fever and the only cure is more Jeb Bush. I am not making that up. Apparently, Dougherty either had to churn out a few hundred words of clickbait (mission accomplished if that was the case, and maybe I can get a bit of it, too) or he is, like the majority of the GOP establishment, sliding, painfully, through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief.
If you were wagering on the Republican race, Jeb Bush is the best “value bet.” Everyone thinks he’s toast. But he still has a real shot.
As the panic over a Trump- or Cruz-led party putsch takes hold, Jeb can remind donors and even the conservative movement that he also hails from Florida. He can remind them that unlike Rubio, Christie, or Kasich, his super PACs are still absolutely loaded, and likely far more willing to spend their cash than Trump will be if the primary turns into a spending contest. Trump is a candidate many Republicans and conservative mandarins cannot abide. His victory would be a rebuke to them. Jeb has the resources and the reach within the party apparatus to grind out a race with Trump.
Make no mistake: It’s better to be in Trump’s position than Bush’s. Trump is lapping the field in the national polls just a few weeks out from the first contests. But comeback stories are just as compelling as end-to-end runs of dominance.
Dougherty points to McCain’s third place showing in Iowa in 2008, leading to a win in New Hampshire and, eventually, to the nomination. BUT. If the election was held today, Bush wouldn’t finish third in Iowa. The best he could hope for would be 6th and fininshing 8th would still be well within the margin of error. With that repudiation under his belt he will move on the New Hampshire where, again if the election were held today, the would, best case, finish 6th and could finish 9th and be within the margin of error. So the takeaway from this is not that Bush can come from behind but rather that Bush’s position in 2008 is more akin to [mc_name name='[mc_name name=’Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’D000533′ ] Hunter (R-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’H001048′ ] or Alan Keyes.
How does this miracle happen?
Jeb’s strategy is straightforward: Continue to attack Trump directly. Doing so not only improves perceptions about Jeb’s character and toughness, it also positions him to get some credit for any underperformance on the part of Trump, a solid bet considering Trump’s popularity comes from groups that tend to have lower-than-average engagement in the political process. Call it a media bias for the establishment, or the bias toward a dramatic story. But any underperformance will be counted as a double-disappointment for Trump. Any time Jeb outpaces expectations, he’ll get double the credit. Jeb as the man who finally tamped down the Trump revolt is a much better story for Jeb than the Bush who bullied everyone from end to end with the money of other rich men.
Let Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Carson, and Christie battle each other for now. Jeb just has to go after Trump relentlessly, even when it looks futile. After the summer, fall, and winter of The Donald, after the non-aggression pact between Cruz and Trump, the party simply needs a well-connected, well-funded Floridian Bush with nothing left to lose but $100 million of a super PAC’s cash on hand.
So how’s that working out for him?
Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what was happening between that July 5 plateau and the death dive that started on July 13? That was when Trump and Bush were at the height of their Twitter slap-fight. And what could happen that pulls Jeb Bush from where he is: below the margin of error in the polls. His actual support could easily be 0%.
The $100 million he talks about, it doesn’t exist. In fact, by the time South Carolina voting happens the Super PAC will probably be broke and Bush’s campaign will be on life support by the time New Hampshire votes.
I guess I’m more than a little unclear how exceeding media expectations results in Republican primary voters voting for Bush. And while his attacks on Trump have been catnip to the political class, they have not only been wildly ineffectual but they ignore the fact that those voters who leave Trump now — or when, as I think, Trump leaves the race — will go to someone and the odds of them ending up with Jeb Bush approaches zero.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons