So, the media are finally catching on to the fact that Jeb Bush’s campaign is toast. But they’re missing the broader point: without Jeb Bush, there would be no Donald Trump.
Today, Politico ran a long piece talking about the pre-post-mortem for the Bush campaign. “They think he wasted money on everything from an iPad-sized video mailer to direct mail for donors in states that don’t yet matter. They think his attacks on Marco Rubio are doing more harm than good. And they worry that, at the end, all he will have accomplished is the destruction of the Bush family brand,” Politico reports. Bush’s big money supporters are blaming Mike Murphy of Right to Rise for the implosion.
But that’s not the real story here. The real story is how big money support for Jeb Bush could be the single most important factor in making Donald Trump the Republican nominee.
Travel back to the time of the Jeb! campaign announcement. He announced on June 15, in a widely-praised spectacle at Miami-Dade College. The establishment was over the moon: they’d found their man, a new scion of the Bush family to carry forward the banner. The grassroots was devastated: the Bush family, to the grassroots, represented yet another royal, insider attempt to quash the base’s desire for more conservative candidates with blue collar appeal.
The very next day, Donald Trump announced his candidacy.
And he did so by slapping at Bush directly, multiple times. Everybody focused in on his infamous rip on Mexican illegal immigrants, but just as important to the base was Trump’s precision attack in Jeb’s candidacy. He attacked Bush for his failure to properly answer questions about the Iraq War: “I mean, you looked at Bush, it took him five days to answer the question on Iraq.” And Common Core: “Bush is totally in favor of Common Core. I don’t see how he can possibly get the nomination.” And immigration: “He’s weak on immigration.” Trump summed up: “How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can’t do it.”
The media dismissed Trump as a sideshow. The base didn’t. And the more the media and the establishment insisted that Jeb! was the rightful alternative to the clown Trump, the more the base resisted.
And the support for Trump grew.
Jeb’s campaign, meanwhile, reinforced exactly the perceptions anti-Jeb voters already had. Jeb refused to attack Hillary Clinton head-on, even as Trump did. Jeb attacked Trump on immigration, even as Trump tacked to the right. The Jeb! Right to Rise PAC spent money precisely how the anti-establishment candidates have always suggested that the consultant class would: on stupid nonsense. They spent $40 million on positive ads branding Jeb! It failed.
And in every single debate, Jeb attempted to take on Trump, and got stomped by him. And after every single debate, Trump then used Jeb’s prone body to boost his poll numbers.
Not content to have skyrocketed Trump to the top of the polls, the Jeb campaign then turned on the establishment’s second-favorite guy, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Right to Rise dropped a bunch of cash on anti-Rubio ads in an attempt to clear the establishment GOP lane for their man. That worked: Rubio’s been stagnant in the polls for months. As Jeremy Peters of The New York Times observes, “Since 1st week in December, $22 million in negative advertising spent against Rubio. $20m has been from Right to Rise.”
And so here we are: Jeb is toast, Rubio’s been blown apart by Jeb’s camp, and Trump is now the establishment alternative to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the likeliest Republican nominee for president.
As always, thanks for nothing, Jeb!