I've said for some time that I think the Bush campaign is dead but, like a beheaded chicken, is still running about. I think this month will show us that the Bush campaign is basically broke. I'm not the only one who believes this. Apparently, the still living body of the campaign is undergoing vivisection to find the cause of its imminent demise.
The big-money supporters fueling Jeb Bush's super PAC have found their boogey man: Mike Murphy, a sharp-witted, Twitter-obsessed veteran GOP ad man who runs Right to Rise.
If Bush's campaign ends with anything other than the GOP nomination, blame is certain to be widespread. But that donors and GOP operatives are already sniping at Murphy before the first votes are cast demonstrates the depth of frustration and displeasure with the Bush-world loyalist.
"It looks like they’re blowing the whole thing up, like even if Jeb can't win, they're not going to let anyone else win either," said a Florida Bush backer and Right to Rise donor who worked on Bush's gubernatorial campaigns and in his administration. "You might as well light all of this money on fire. Most of all, they’re hurting the reputation of a really great man.”
I think that is mostly true. One can make a convincing case, though, that Bush, himself, damaged his own reputation. He entered a contest in which the GOP primary electorate was furious at the status quo with his unique selling proposition being "I'm Jeb Bush, it is my turn, and look at all my money, bitches." Or as a Rubio backer was quoted as saying:
"At a time when so many voters are anti-establishment and angry at the government, the last thing you should say in all of your campaign ads is 'I am a former governor with a great record of governing,'" said Joe Culotta, a former Republican Party of Florida consultant who is supporting Rubio. "Don't get me wrong, I respect Gov. Bush and totally agree that he did great things in Florida. But to voters, that translates to 'I have a lot of experience in being part of the establishment and the government that you all hate.'"
The fact is that in creating a superficial effort to look like they are trying to win, they are damaging, perhaps gravely so, an excellent candidate, Marco Rubio. But the problem goes directly to the heart of the way modern campaigns are run:
POLITICO interviewed nearly two dozen Right to Rise donors and Bush supporters, and all blamed Murphy for a super PAC strategy that has failed to boost their struggling candidate. Multiple advisers to the Right to Rise super PAC concede privately that the $40 million spent on positive ads aimed at telling Bush's story has yielded no tangible dividends.
This isn’t the first time Murphy’s campaign spending has been questioned. After success in helping to run Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first bid for governor in California, Murphy was criticized for overspending on Meg Whitman’s failed gubernatorial run. In an unusual business arrangement, Whitman made a $1 million investment in Murphy’s production company just months before he began working for her campaign. She eventually spent $144 million of her own money on the failed campaign.
Veteran California political operative Don Sipple, who brought Murphy onto the Schwarzenegger campaign, laughed when asked about Murphy’s involvement with high price-tag campaigns.
“Murphy was doing the Meg Whitman campaign so he knows how to spend money,” Sipple said, noting that Right to Rise's “return on investment is seriously elusive."
This is just like what happened to the Scott Walker (remember him?) campaign. A Super PAC raises a ton of cash or a campaign. Some well connected
leech consultant is selected to run the operation. Money is spent on expensive ads and promotional items that do nothing to move the needle but enrich media buyers and direct mail houses. The candidate flops. The consultant goes off to greener pastures. And the candidate is trashed. Erick has carried on an unrelenting war against these types since 2008.
GOP lobbyist David Carmen, a friend of his for more than two decades, described Murphy as being the “Bill Belichick of GOP politics,” referring to the long-time head coach of the New England Patriots.
"And what I mean by that is [Belichick] is famous for his sort of taciturn behavior and the phrase do your job," Carmen said. "I think Mike feels that everyone should just do their job and he spends all night every night, all day every day, thinking about every possible contingency and formulation about what might occur in a given campaign."
"That comes across to some people as off-putting, but that is who he is," Carmen said. "He is a genius of the mechanics of politics. He's always been that way."
One major difference — Belichick has won four super bowls and Murphy still hasn’t claimed a presidential campaign victory.
Ummmm.... if this is what happens if Murphy "spends all night every night, all day every day, thinking about every possible contingency and formulation about what might occur in a given campaign," maybe he should have been told to sleep more and play more golf. The results would not have been worse. (Here I'm reminded of the P. J. O'Rourke essay in which he disputes the idea that government workers work minimal hours, you can't f*** up like that in just eight hours a day.)
For the Bush campaign the only remaining question is whether Jeb Bush goes out with a modicum of decency or if he decides to exit wearing a clown nose, Speedo, and a pair of Crocs. But the sad fact is that none of this will matter a tinker's damn to Mike Murphy. When Jeb Bush goes down in flames, he'll be hired by the RNC or one of the other establishment groups as their guru and he'll rest, retool his resume so that Jeb Bush is to blame, and some other feckless candidate will hire him.