On the campaign trail, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush frequently tries to allay concerns about the dynastic aspects of his candidacy. “I’m my own man,” Jeb said during a speech earlier this year, “and my views are shaped by my own thinking and experiences.”
As a fundraising quarter ends, however, Jeb is relying heavily on his father and brother to boost contributions to his struggling campaign.
Former President George W. Bush hosted two fundraisers for Jeb last week. He is scheduled to host three more over the next few weeks. In October, George W. and former President George H. W. Bush, whose health is frail, will mingle with campaign bundlers for Jeb’s campaign in Houston.
The higher profile taken recently by Jeb’s family in his campaign is a clear sign that things aren’t going well in the Bush campaign. Even establishment Republicans in Washington, who are among Jeb’s biggest supporters, understood that overcoming the Bush legacy would be a significant challenge to his campaign.
American voters, but most especially Republican voters, are angry at Washington and in no mood to flirt with political dynasties. Before Jeb formally announced his campaign for President, he crisscrossed the country raising more than $100 million for his Super PAC. Achieving this level of funding relied heavily on contacts and relationships the Bush family had built over three decades at the highest level of politics.
Being the brother and son of former Presidents obviously has distinct advantages. By capitalizing on these contacts before he became a candidate, Jeb clearly intended to reap their benefits early and minimize his family legacy as voters started to pay attention to the race. His campaign signs, after all, only include his first name.
Jeb, campaigning as his “own man”, however, is struggling. He has given up around two-thirds of his support over the Summer. He once led the field in many polls, but is now mired around fifth, sixth or seventh place. A recent poll of Florida Republicans even found his own protege, Sen. Marco Rubio, edging him in support there.
Underwhelming performance in two debates and sagging poll numbers have even sparked rising concerns among his supporters that he can see the race through. All eyes will be on the third Quarter fundraising activity, which closes on Wednesday. If Jeb doesn’t post big fundraising numbers to his personal campaign, as opposed to his super pac, questions about the viability of his candidacy will intensify.
The recent overt reliance on Jeb’s brother and father for basic fundraising appeals suggests his fundraising has hit a wall. While the June fundraising report was dominated by news about Jeb’s enormous haul for his Super PAC, fundraising for his actual campaign was unspectacular. In terms of hard money to his campaign, Jeb was out raised by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
Jeb’s campaign is outsourcing to his Super PAC many functions traditionally handled by individual campaign committees. There are many tasks, however, such as ballot access, candidate logistics and basic campaign infrastructure, that can only be done by an individual campaign. These costs can add up quickly. Even a very lean Presidential campaign is likely to spend $1-2 million a month just to keep the lights on.
More importantly, candidate fundraising is still seen by many as a proxy for how a campaign is evolving. Bush has an impeccable political pedigree and ought to be able to raise buckets of individual, hard-dollar donations. If Jeb has trouble raising these funds, it is a sign that donors are still uncommitted, a toxic message for a candidate banking, to some degree, on inevitability.
It also isn’t at all clear that even the $100 million banked early by his Super PAC itself is enough to contest the nomination, given the persistence of Donald Trump and other outsider candidates. Saturation TV buys, which is how super pacs headed by media consultants will spend its resources, are rapidly declining as an effective messaging tool.
It is unlikely that Jeb ever planned to enter October still relying on the support of his father and brother. That he still needs them to loosen donors’ checkbooks confirms that he isn’t quite ready to be his “own man.”