Low-energy summit: Jeb Bush to meet with Rubio, Cruz and Kasich in Florida

posted at 5:21 pm on March 9, 2016 by John Sexton

It’s not actually a summit but Jeb Bush is meeting separately with three of his former rivals who will be in Florida for a debate Thursday night. Not surprisingly Bush is not planning to meet with Trump. The NY Times has details:

Mr. Bush will meet with Mr. Rubio on Wednesday, and Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich on Thursday, the aide said. It was unclear whether Mr. Bush intended to make an endorsement before Tuesday’s winner-take-all primary in Florida.

So far no one is reporting that Bush plans to endorse one of the three candidates though that seems like an obvious reason for having the meetings. Just three days ago, CNN reported that Bush was weighing whether or not to endorse Marco Rubio:

A former Bush campaign official who asked not to be identified to speak more freely believes it’s a “possibility” Bush will endorse Rubio, especially if Bush thinks it can “make a big difference and slow Trump down.”

Looking at the results from Tuesday night in which Rubio claimed no delegates in any state, can Bush possibly think a last minute endorsement will matter. And looking at polls today, there seems to be even less reason to think so. So what is Bush up to.

There are at least two possibilities here. First, Bush could be planning to endorse Rubio not because he believes it will make a difference but as a matter of principle and as a way to finish a race that, a few weeks ago, had him calling Rubio a back-bencher. An endorsement might not matter at the polls but it would certainly be appreciated by a candidate who is facing the possibility of a difficult defeat next Tuesday. In short, having a friend volunteer to go down with your ship has to be worth something on a personal level.

The outstanding question here though is why the need to meet with all three candidates? It makes sense to meet with Rubio in person if you’re making, essentially, a friendship gesture, but why meet with Cruz and Kasich if you’re just going to tell them they don’t get the endorsement? Maybe Bush wants to explain his decision to the other two men, but if so why not do that in writing or on the phone?

A second possibility is that Bush has decided to make an endorsement but hasn’t decided who will receive it yet. That would make more sense of the meeting with all three candidates, a final chance for Bush to assess them personally before announcing his decision. Also, it allows him to be more strategic with his endorsement. Instead of going with his friend, he might be looking at which candidate has the best chance to stop Trump from winning Florida and beyond. A few weeks ago it might have seemed that person was Rubio but now? Cruz has won a number states (including Idaho last night) and has the most delegates after Trump. An endorsement from an establishment figure like Bush might help solidify the establishment opposition to Trump by attaching it to the person who, for the moment, seems best positioned to really challenge him. On the other hand, John Kasich seems more like Bush’s cup of tea. Kasich has a real chance to win Ohio next Tuesday. Maybe a Bush endorsement could help him leap into 2nd place in Florida. That might be an impressive enough showing for Kasich to pick up some traction as Rubio fades.

The only scenario I think we can probably rule out is the third possibility: Bush is meeting with the other candidates to tell them, in person, why he has decided to endorse Donald Trump.

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