ROCK HILL, South Carolina — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is bullish heading into South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, telling Breitbart News Daily in an exclusive interview that aired Friday morning on SiriusXM Patriot Channel 125 that he believes he even has a shot at second place in the primary.
That Bush is saying he has a shot at second or third place—the conventional wisdom has billionaire Donald Trump winning South Carolina big, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) finishing in second and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) finishing in third—is significant in that Bush is now thinking he could repeat what he pulled off in New Hampshire. Bush surprised the political pundit class by finishing ahead of Rubio in the Granite State’s primary a little over a week ago, and is now aiming to do that again here in the Palmetto State on Saturday.
“I want to beat expectations here,” Bush said in the interview, conducted aboard his campaign bus after a town hall event on Thursday evening. “I’m working to do that. I don’t know what the expectations game is here, but we are within striking distance of second place—and certainly of third place. There’s a jump ball based on the most current polling I’ve seen with Trump pretty far ahead but dropping and Senators Cruz and Rubio and myself all kind of vying for second and third place. And we’e going to work as hard as we can until the polls close on Saturday.”
Most public polling in South Carolina has Trump way ahead, Cruz in second place by himself and Rubio with a decently stand alone third place position. But Bush may have access to internal polling that puts him in a more favorable position. Back before the New Hampshire primaries, he was equally bullish after a horrendous debate performance by Rubio thanks to now-no-longer-running New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ripping him apart for being robotic opened the race up. During an interview with Breitbart News there in New Hampshire, during his Super Bowl party in a downtown Manchester pub, Bush said Rubio would lose to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a general election.
“Of the people on the stage, not in terms of rhetoric but in terms of results, I’m the most conservative reform minded person running for president—which is my record,” Bush told Breitbart News then when asked about Rubio’s horrendous performance in the ABC News debate in Manchester. “The governors are good people but no one matches the record of cutting taxes, shrinking government, ending affirmative action, a first second third school choice program, moving to a AAA bond rating. I got to do what people talk about. To beat Hillary Clinton, we need someone that has a proven record. We’re not going to beat her with an untested person. She will scrape the bark off a candidate that has never done anything. It’d be ugly.”
Now, the stars are similarly aligning for Bush here in South Carolina. It’s still unclear as of yet whether enough will have changed back in Bush’s favor in the Bush-Rubio battles, and it won’t be unclear until returns start coming in after the polls close on Saturday night here, but there’s signs Bush may pull off one of political history’s most miraculous comebacks.
First off, and most importantly, South Carolina has traditionally been the “Bush Firewall.” The state has been very kind to the Bush family when Jeb’s brother George W. Bush halted any momentum for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2000 GOP presidential primaries, going on to eventually secure the nomination and the presidency.
What’s more, the state’s most coveted endorsement for an establishment-leaning candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—a machine politician with a reputation for toughness on national security—has been barnstorming the state with Bush. Graham, a hard-nosed foreign policy hawk, has been campaigning with Bush throughout the state and was on the campaign bus with him here in Rock Hill on Thursday. Compare that with endorsements that Rubio has procured, from Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). There’s almost certainly an awkward relationship between Haley and the Rubio campaign staff since Rubio’s campaign manager Terry Sullivan, a prominent South Carolina blogger alleged in a Breitbart News exclusive on Thursday morning, was behind spreading the story back in 2010 that that blogger had an alleged affair with Haley. Haley has denied the affair. What’s more, Haley and Gowdy have both come under fire in recent weeks for not-so-tough positions on immigration—positions that mirror Rubio’s support for open borders, as evidenced by his working in promoting on behalf of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill last Congress. Graham and McCain were also part of that effort.
Jeb Bush brought out his brother George W. Bush to campaign with him earlier this week in Charleston, South Carolina—and his brother remains extraordinarily popular among Republicans here.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Rubio’s campaign made a critical error on Thursday evening. He snubbed nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin and thousands of conservative voters in Greenville by not showing up to the Conservative Review conference there. Rubio was previously scheduled and confirmed to go, and didn’t change his mind until moments before he was supposed to appear on stage. The whole fiasco has been extraordinarily embarrassing for Rubio and will likely dominate the news in the final day before the primaries, forcing Rubio into a defensive position similar to where he was after his horrendous ABC News debate performance in New Hampshire. It’s the worst possible time for Rubio to be on the defensive, too, as it’s difficult to get back on message the day before an election when thousands of conservatives are furious with him that he blew them off. It’s unclear where Rubio even was, because one of the surrogates, Sen. Scott, who was with him moments earlier at a diner in the area was at the Conservative Review event. Scott and Gowdy weren’t allowed to speak on Rubio’s behalf because no campaign that didn’t send its candidate was allowed to let any surrogates speak.
Meanwhile, with the new focus the Pope has put on the race with attacks on Trump, the billionaire frontrunner is fighting a new battle over policy and over the heart and soul of nationalist populism against global elitism, so he isn’t attacking Bush day in and day out.
Again, it remains to be seen what happens on election day, but Bush’s expectation may very well turn out to be true. But when Bush beat Rubio in New Hampshire, and when Ohio Gov. John Kasich similarly finished ahead of both of them, it threw the GOP establishment’s previously well-laid plans to coalesce quickly behind Rubio into chaos. If both Bush and Kasich make it out of South Carolina going strong, that could spell even more serious trouble for Rubio.