Hell yes, says Will Rahn, although he surely knows deep down that Jeb’s not going anywhere soon. Which raises the question: What would have to happen in the race to get Bush to pull the plug before Iowa or New Hampshire? How bad do things need to get before a guy who raised $100 million decides, “You know what, it’s just not worth it”?
But your brother was an able campaigner, and you are not. The polls showed he had a particularly good chance of winning back the White House; the same can’t really be said of you. And again, he was a disaster as president. You were doing a decent job of shedding all that baggage, but now that’s he’s joining you on the campaign trail, you’re going to be shouldering all of it…
Let’s also look at the effect you dropping out would have on the frontrunner, Donald Trump. If you leave the race, it would allow the anti-Trump wing of the party to rally around someone else while also depriving Trump of his most reliable punch line, which is of course your candidacy. Given that Trump winning the nomination could foreseeably lead to the dissolution of the Republican Party, it would be a great act of loyalty if you were to cut him down by ending your campaign.
And that’s the story you can tell if you get out soon, Jeb. Your exit could be portrayed as a strategic retreat in a larger war for the GOP. You were the adult, you put ambition aside and saved your country and your party from Donald Trump. For the rest of your life, people will come up to you and tell you that you were the best president this country never had. You’ll be the premier elder statesman of the GOP, the man who retired gracefully instead of going through the expense of losing ugly.
If Jeb quits now, Rahn argues, he’ll be doing a great service to the rest of the field by sparing them from the coming attack-ad bombardment that’ll otherwise be paid for by his war chest.
Here’s the only problem: What evidence is there that Bush can’t come back and win? The working theory behind Trump’s (slight) downturn in the polls since the last debate is that voters are only now starting to get serious about the race. If that’s true, then the Bush boomlet might still be coming. If you believe the last NBC/WSJ poll taken in New Hampshire, Bush is still in third place there with 11 percent, just 10 points behind a weakening Trump and five points behind Fiorina, whom few believe will win the nomination. With a ton of money in the bank and continued viability in his must-win state, there’s no reason for him to get out soon. Purely as an ego matter, why would he want to bow to his protege Rubio by throwing in the towel when he and Rubio are separated in most polls by just a handful of points? And whatever you think of Rahn’s assessment of Dubya as a disastrous president, the fact is that Republican voters don’t agree. Go look again at Bush 43’s favorable rating among GOP voters. It’s entirely possible that having George on the trail for Jeb will lend him the bit of stature he needs for undecided center-right voters to take a closer look at him.
The only scenario where it would make sense for Bush to quit in early October, I think, is if Trump and some other credible center-right challenger like Rubio or Kasich had already bounced out to big leads and made it a two-man race. In that case, Jeb might tell himself that it’s unrealistic to think he’ll be able to catch the center-righty, even with tons of money in the bank and Dubya’s help on the trail, and also that Trump is so serious a threat to win the nomination that the responsible thing to do, a la Scott Walker, is unite behind the leading “electable” alternative. Neither of those conditions obtain right now, though — Trump’s lead is shrinking, not expanding, and second place is up for grabs among Rubio, Carson, and Fiorina. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next six weeks or so, though, if Rubio continues to inch up and Trump continues to inch down. In that case, Jeb may decide that the scariest prospect of the campaign — Trump as nominee — has become sufficiently unlikely that he can just continue to run his race for another two months and see if he can catch Marco in New Hampshire. If not, fine. Maybe he’ll drop out then and spare Rubio a death match in Florida. If so, great. Then he’s back on track for the nomination. Until it becomes a two-man race, though, this probably isn’t even worth thinking about — unless it turns out that Jeb hates campaigning so much that he’s actually eager to find excuses to quietly retire.
Exit question: What if we end up with a two-man race between Rubio and Ted Cruz, with Jeb Bush more than 10 points behind both men? Would he quit and endorse Rubio then?