Come with me, my friends, to a time back in December of last year. The 2016 candidates were just starting to field serious questions about launching campaigns, and many eyes were on Jeb Bush in the Republican field. Jeb, for his part, announced in late December was “actively exploring” a 2016 campaign. The theory, at the time, was that he would cruise along raising untold sums of money and essentially “clear the field” of any moderate, establishment candidates who might challenge him.
Welcome to present day six months later and a very, very different picture of the Republican primary field. Not only has Jeb fallen short of the financial goals, but he’s in a five-way tie or trailing in many national and state primary polls. What happened to the “shock and awe” strategy of claiming the mantle?
Report from the Washington Post:
When asked to pinpoint where Jeb Bush’s presidential effort began running into trouble, many confidants utter a single word: Dallas.
Mike Murphy, Bush’s political alter ego, decided early on to hold regular senior staff meetings at an unusual location: a Hyatt hotel inside a terminal at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The idea was that it was a central and relatively inexpensive gathering place for a team scattered from Los Angeles, where Murphy lives, to Miami, where the would-be candidate resides.
It went fine at first but quickly became an awkward routine. Donors and other Republicans found the setup ungainly for a campaign-in-waiting that was supposed to be based in Florida.
The airport huddles were just one sign among many of a political operation going off course — disjointed in message and approach, torn between factions and more haphazard than it appeared on the surface. Bush’s first six months as an all-but-declared candidate have been defined by a series of miscalculations, leaving his standing considerably diminished ahead of his formal entry into the race on Monday.
In interviews this week, dozens of Bush backers and informed Republicans — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly — described an overly optimistic, even haughty exploratory operation. Strategic errors were exacerbated by unexpected stumbles by the would-be candidate and internal strife within his team, culminating in a staff shake-up this week.
The original premise of Bush’s candidacy — that a bold, fast start would scare off potential rivals and help him overcome the burden of his last name — has proved to be misguided.
His operation’s ability to rake in large checks also fueled inflated expectations. Supporters acknowledged this week that an allied super PAC was likely to fall short — perhaps substantially — of predictions that it would bring in $100 million in the first half of the year.
The story quotes $100 million as the funding goal, but I’ve seen numbers as ridiculously high as $500 million as a goal before he would enter the campaign this summer. Obviously the support just isn’t there financially to the extent his team though it would be.
I would have to say that more than anything, Republican voters may be skeptical of giving the nod to another Bush, especially when Democrats seem ready to hand the mantle to another Clinton.
On the stump, Bush has stuck to his pledge not to shift to the right to win the nomination, but his middle-of-the-road positions on immigration and education have come off more as out of step with the base of his party than shrewdly pragmatic. His wonky question-and-answer exchanges with voters sometimes resemble college lectures rather than a disarming appeal for votes.
The troubles have eroded the image Bush has sought to present as the one Republican uniquely ready for the presidential stage. He has slipped in polls from presumed front-runner to one of several candidates jumbled toward the top of an increasingly crowded field.
Aside from his connections and ability to raise a good sum of money, what can Jeb offer voters in the Republican primary? His positions are not very revolutionary when it comes to what the conservative base is looking for, and his presentation is fairly lackluster. He’s in a crowded field among many candidates who have spent years now cultivating grassroots relationships across the fruited plane.
Now, with all this said, Jeb Bush still sits in a good position. His campaign is by no means imploding, it’s more likely transitioning into an actual campaign instead of campaign-in-waiting. If you’ll recall, John McCain’s campaign looked quite dead in the summer of 2007, when he then went on to win the nomination. Comparatively, if McCain’s campaign was on life-support, Bush’s campaign is currently near perfect health in terms of money, but with some work to do in the early states.
Essentially what has happened is his head-start failed to materialize as much as it was predicted to. In other words, he’ll have to earn his spot in the field just like everyone else. One voter at a time.
Jeb is poised to enter the race on Monday, June 15, 2015.