Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has everything a presumptive frontrunner needs to secure the Republican nomination except the support of voters.
While his campaign was always expected to be haunted by the lingering legacy of his older brother, his campaign, up to this point, has been plagued by a more fundamental challenge. Bush has yet to offer a compelling reason why he should be President.
Bush’s fundraising has been prodigious and impressive. His campaign, and affiliated SuperPACs, have raised well over $100 million, eclipsing even Hillary Clinton’s war chest. He has gathered endorsements from scores of state and local elected officials. Recently, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller endorsed Bush. More elected officials are no doubt waiting in the wings to endorse Bush.
As the scion of the most successful Republican political dynasty in history, Bush has institutional advantages out of reach of other candidates. Half of his donors were past supporters of his father and/or brother in their campaigns for President. Despite these, and nearly universal name ID, his campaign is struggling to connect with voters.
In the latest average of national polls, Bush earns just 10 percent support, less than half the amount of frontrunner Donald Trump. In mid-July, Bush led the Republican field with almost 18 percent, double his nearest rival.
In Iowa, Bush is in 7th place. In New Hampshire, which was expected to be the strongest of the early states for him, he is in 3rd. In South Carolina he is in second, but with almost one-third the support of the frontrunner. Interestingly, the South Carolina polls were taken before the first GOP debate, when the Trump boomlet gathered steam.
Bush’s problems aren’t just an early state phenomenon, each of which have unique quirks. In Pennsylvania, Bush is fifth, with just 6 percent. In Ohio, Jeb is in sixth place, with just 5 percent support. In Arizona, he is in fourth and in Wisconsin, seventh. In North Carolina, he is in third place, behind both Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Bush currently is even losing the nomination battle in his home state Florida. Trump beats Bush in the Sunshine State by 4 points, 21 percent v. 17 percent. Even though Bush is in second, he isn’t far ahead of either Carson or Sen. Marco Rubio.
Obviously, these are early polls and we are months away from the first votes being cast. The field will narrow and support will be reshuffled among the surviving candidates.
The Hill reports that “[m]ost backers of Bush continue to believe it will all turn out alright. They believe that as the field is winnowed over time, the former Florida governor is far better-positioned to hoover up the voters of those who drop out than is Trump.”
Arguably, this is how both Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney secured their nominations. They were conservative-enough and were perceived as having the right tone and sufficient level of nuance in their positions to contest the general election. They each had a more robust campaign infrastructure than any of their opponents and, to some degree, simply outlasted a rather uninspiring field of candidates.
It bears pointing out, though, that each also lost their general election contests.
They each also had, to be fair, a compelling reason they were running. McCain was a war-hero and independent maverick who had a reputation, at that time, for bucking the Republican party when necessary. Romney was a successful businessman, specializing in economic turnarounds, at a time that worries about the economy were foremost on voters’ minds.
It isn’t at clear why Bush is running or what his Presidency would be about beyond it’s become the family business. His very early campaign was dogged by questions about his views on the Iraq War. Inexplicably, he didn’t seem to have firm views on the issue that most defines his brother’s Presidency. Worse, his views have seemingly evolved in real-time throughout this campaign. This is almost beyond belief.
How is a candidate named Bush, running for President, not prepared to address questions about the Iraq War?
The 2016 election is shaping up to be a movement election, in both parties. The hard-left is asserting itself in the Democrat primary, pushing frontrunner Hillary far into the progressive wing of the party. In the Republican primary, conservative voters are so frustrated with national Republican leadership that a third-party challenge is a very real possibility.
The ultimate failure of the Bush campaign so far is that it is completely out of touch with the sentiment of voters. That he is struggling in the polls now isn’t as much a statement about early polling, but a testament to the very steep climb he has with the most loyal Republican voters.
Ironically, while Donald Trump, the current frontrunner, is known to many Americans as a reality-TV star, it is Bush who is employing a reality-tv campaign strategy. Like a successful candidate from Survivor, he is building alliances, keeping a low-profile and hoping to simply outlast everyone else.
Even if it can be a winning strategy, few are ever really satisfied with the result. If he has any hope of winning over voters before November 2016, Bush needs to start giving voters a reason to support him. Another branch on a respectable family tree isn’t cutting it.