Panic in Bushworld: Rubio now most likely GOP nominee in predictions market

The funniest part of this story isn’t that they’re obsessing over an online predictions website. The funniest part is that Jeb’s standing in that market really might be the best argument they have left to donors to stay aboard while this ship drifts aimlessly towards Iowa and New Hampshire. If PredictIt is for Jeb, who can be against him?

Except PredictIt isn’t for Jeb anymore.

For the past week, Jeb Bush’s campaign advisers have been using a new data point to convince nervous donors that he’s still the candidate to beat: Bush’s lead in the political prediction markets.

Just one problem: Beginning Sunday night, PredictIt, the biggest of the online sites and the one referenced last week by top Bush advisers and confidants, placed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of Bush at the head of the GOP pack…

“I don’t know if it’s panic or paranoia in Miami, but they are losing [Scott] Walker people to Marco, and if you say what’s true, they get mad,” said one Bush donor, who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity. “I think it’s just reflective of what’s been going on for the past month or so and the way the race, at least in the establishment lane, has shifted. It’s really Jeb or Marco now. Marco’s fundraising has picked up, and Jeb’s has stayed flat.”

Another Bush donor invited to Miami, assessing the state of anxiety within the former Florida governor’s operation on a scale of 1 to 10, put the panic level at a “6 or 7.”

PredictIt has Rubio at 38 cents, Bush at 35, and Trump at 19. Interestingly, both Carly Fiorina and John Kasich are slightly higher than Ted Cruz, presumably because they’re more palatable to establishment Republicans. As for Jeb, I think the reason his team’s worked up over a predictions market isn’t just the fact that it’s a rare bright spot in his campaign fortunes lately, it’s that inevitability has always been his core argument to donors. Skip the more dynamic centrists like Christie and the more electable center-righties like Rubio, Team Bush argues, and sign up with the guy whom we all know is going to win the nomination because that’s what Bushes do. Once the inevitability argument fades, all that’s left is the idea that Jeb’s financial advantage is so enormous that he’ll be able to effectively buy the nomination if need be. He can out-advertise and out-organize Rubio because his budget’s bigger. But increasingly that won’t be true either: As noted, Rubio’s already picking up some of Walker’s infrastructure. If and when Christie drops out, some of that will likely gravitate to Rubio too as the last best chance of the “Not Jeb” crowd. In fact, a weird point of commonality between Jeb and his nemesis Trump is that both of them rely heavily on the idea that they’re going to win as an argument for why they should win. That’s not true for Jeb anymore, and if Trump’s polls start slipping, it won’t be true for him either. The difference is, Trump will still have a populist base once his aura of invincibility disappears. What will Jeb have?

He’ll have this, I guess.


Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Even the famously unpopular Chris Christie has a higher net favorable rating among Republicans now than Jeb Bush does. Trump, who was deep underwater among GOP voters four months ago, does better than both of them. Bush’s huge ad budget might change that, but will it change it so much as to erase Rubio’s enormous advantage in this metric?

I wonder if, at this point, Jeb’s best hope isn’t for Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to cave to conservatives and produce a shutdown over Planned Parenthood this fall. That’s risky in light of the CW that any potential Republican nominee will suffer by association with his party in the aftermath of that, but if Bush condemned the tactic as irresponsible, maybe it’d channel some of the frustration GOP centrists feel over brinksmanship and galvanize support for him as the “adult in the room” or whatever. The conservative base would hate him even more than they do now, but they weren’t voting for him to begin with. His problem at the moment is that he’s being overlooked by the center-right voters he covets. Denouncing a shutdown might get their attention. And a shutdown could be especially agonizing for Rubio, who’s trying to balance his appeal to the center as an electable moderate with his appeal to the right as a guy they can trust to hold the conservative line — on, er, everything except immigration. That’s another reason why Ted Cruz is eager to leverage the shutdown debate in the Senate: He knows what his position is on this and he also knows that Rubio’s going to get burned no matter which side he takes, alienating either centrists or conservatives. If Rubio backs a shutdown, the donor class will be horrified and Jeb will benefit. If he opposes a shutdown, the base will be horrified and Cruz will benefit. Presumably he’ll oppose the shutdown, partly because Bush is (momentarily) a bigger threat to him than Cruz, partly because it’s more important for him to make donors happy right now when the field is still this big, and partly because he doesn’t want the headache of defending a shutdown in the general election if he’s the nominee. But we’ll see.

Your exit question: If Jeb’s big financial advantage is going to translate into rosy poll numbers eventually, how come it hasn’t already? Because he’s the big ad spender of the campaign so far, as it turns out.