Coming soon to a New Hampshire television set near you. The “outsider” brand is a no-brainer for any other (ex-)governor running for president. For Jeb, known far and wide as the son of one president and the brother of another? C’mon. Who’s watching this and thinking, “If I want to shake up Washington, I should vote for the guy who just raked in $100 million from the Republicans’ country-club set”? Jeb’s “Bush problem” is that he’s the only man in the field, including the billionaire who invited Hillary Clinton to his wedding, who has no way to argue that he’s anti-establishment. He is the establishment. But I guess, thanks partly to Trump, every candidate running this year is now obliged to pretend that he’s some sort of insurrectionist leader headed to D.C. to liberate Washington, whether anyone might find that remotely plausible or not. Can’t wait for Joe Biden, who’s been in the Capitol since the Lincoln era, to jump in and declare himself an “outsider” too.
Another interesting twist: Between the line about unnamed “self-promoters” and Jeb saying, “Anybody can talk, I’ve delivered,” his target here is obviously Trump. Some GOP strategists thought Jeb would focus mainly on Kasich in New Hampshire in the expectation that Trump will eventually fade, leaving the Floridian and Ohioan battling for victory in the state. Does this mean Bush no longer thinks the Trump collapse is inevitable? Hmmmmm:
“There is a fairly delusional bubble from Washington, D.C., powered by the wishful thinking among the party establishment that this will all magically dissipate,” said Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who guided John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “This is a movement. The leader is a master showman and master communicator who is in complete and absolute command of every facet of the political battlefield.”
Where his rivals once expected him to flame out before the first vote was cast next year, the consensus among the nearly two dozen campaign staffers and GOP operatives interviewed for this story is that he’ll be a force long past the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. The old theory of the case – that the nomination would ultimately narrow down to Bush and one other candidate – is out the window.
“It was going to be Jeb and someone else; now a lot of people think it’ll be Trump and someone else, maybe two others,” a strategist for one Republican campaign said.
If Jeb shares that thinking then it’s odd that he’s focused on beating Trump instead of trying to eliminate Kasich and become that “someone else,” so maybe he doesn’t share that thinking. Or maybe it’s a matter of pure optics: Jeb is expected to win New Hampshire the same way Scott Walker is expected to win Iowa, so finishing ahead of Kasich there but behind Trump might not be good enough for him. The narrative in the aftermath might very well be “Bush loses must-win state,” leaving a stink of death on Bush’s campaign that he can’t shake before taking on Trump and Rubio in Florida. In that case, he has no choice but to focus on Trump instead of Kasich right now. Besides, Kasich has already blown a cool $5 million on ads in New Hampshire, and while it’s paid off in elevating him to second place, he’s still a distant second to Trump and only a few points ahead of Bush, who’s spent nothing on ads until now. Bush, by focusing on his own conservative record as governor, is laying the groundwork for attack ads to come hammering Kasich as an ObamaCare-hugging RINO (and Trump as an even bigger Hillary-hugging RINO). That’s really all he can do — he’s not charismatic, he’s not fooling anyone with this “outsider” shtick, so he might as well focus laser-like on his conservative achievements in Florida and hope that’s enough.
Update: Annnnd Trump swings back on Instagram. I wonder if his TV ads will be this punchy.