This is insane, but in many ways it’s the only fitting ending to the disaster film that is Bush 3.0.
“Jeb just isn’t very talented at this. And the problem is that Jeb has been coddled by a group of people who worship Jeb,” said one high-level Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They ran a campaign based on what they wanted the party to be, instead of what the party was.”…
Mike Murphy, the Los Angeles-based ad man running Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, isn’t about to leave the $75 million left in the group’s bank account unspent and is readying a 15-minute biographical film about Bush.
According to another source close to Right to Rise, Murphy has been floating another tactical shift to potential supporters, suggesting that he might spend the bulk of the $75 million to carpet bomb Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Christie—everyone but Trump. The thinking: making the race into a binary choice between Bush and Trump might be the only way a majority of primary voters go with Bush.
A 15-minute documentary, huh? Only these guys could believe that Jeb’s big problem is that Republicans haven’t had enough exposure to him yet. In a YouTube age, where five-minute Internet clips are considered a slog, of course they want to do something three times as long about a guy whose family history is already known to every Republican in America.
But I digress. Murphy’s “nuke everyone but Trump” plan makes sense in this respect: There’s no affirmative case for nominating Jeb Bush and there never has been apart from his fundraising network. If Bush is going to win the nomination at this point, it’s only by presenting himself as the lesser of two evils, and the only candidate in the field who even arguably represents a greater “evil” than chapter three of the Bush dynasty is Trump. Jeb can’t win being Jeb, but maybe he can win as the guy who’s not the guy from “The Apprentice.” The fact that his own PAC is considering this strategy means that even they now accept that the case for Bush has failed. Which, actually, makes the documentary even more pointless. Who cares about Jeb’s bio if he’s simply running at this point as an alternative to Trump?
The grand irony of the “nuke everyone” strategy is that, if there’s one candidate out there who legitimately might get stomped by Trump in a one-on-one race, it’s Jeb. Head-to-head polling this year between, say, Trump and Rubio and Trump and Cruz sometimes shows Trump winning and sometimes shows the other guys ahead, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a head-to-head scenario between Bush and Trump where Jeb comes out on top. Usually he trails in double digits when voters are given that choice. Even so, Murphy told Bloomberg News in October that he’d “love” to get Trump in a one-on-one battle for the nomination, the thinking being that undecided Republicans aren’t going to gamble on a loose cannon like Trump to beat Hillary when they have a more sober option like Jeb available. Why Murphy thinks that, though, I don’t know. No candidate has seemed more hapless in dealing with Trump than Bush has. The contrast between Bush’s almost obligatory support among the donor class and the wild enthusiasm of Trump’s grassroots fans couldn’t be sharper. There are, I’d bet, plenty of Republicans who strongly prefer Cruz or Rubio to Trump who’d nonetheless side with Trump against Jeb because they disdain the idea of a Bush dynasty and resent that Jeb’s rich friends are propping up a lackluster candidate who would have flamed out of the race ages ago without them. It may be more true that Jeb is the only candidate that Trump could beat head to head than vice versa.
So let’s play this out. Imagine that Right to Rise dumps $75 million on a Corleone-esque ad hit on all the other heads of the five families — except Trump. Christie, who doesn’t have the money to fight back, washes out under attack. So does Carson, who’s already fading. Rubio, the great establishment hope, stalls. Cruz, successfully portrayed by Team Jeb as an obstructionist and radical, also can’t get traction. (Er, who’s consolidating social conservatives with Carson and Cruz both eliminated? Someone’s going to collect, and be buoyed by, those votes.) How do you suppose supporters of Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Carson would feel about Jeb Bush and his team of dynasts at that point? Says Jim Geraghty, “This sort of move would validate every suspicion of the Republican ‘establishment’ craving personal victory above all else, and having no real agenda beyond its own ambition and desire for power.” Bush’s legacy would be wrecking the two talented next-gen senators in the race, demolishing ultimate nice-guy Ben Carson, and sidelining another centrist governor who’s far more charismatic than he is. Trump would seem like the comparatively collegial option of the two of them, and his “change” message would seem even more dramatic and compelling contrasted with the prospect of another four years of a Bush presidency. Essentially, Bush would be burning down the party to clear the way … for Donald Trump to become the nominee.
And that’s why this would be a fitting ending to his campaign. A few weeks ago, Sean Trende argued on Twitter that Trumpmania can only be fully understood in the context of Jeb’s decision to run. Without Jeb in the race, the anxieties propelling Trump would still be there but they wouldn’t be quite as frantic. The thought that the donor class might buy their way to another nomination with a guy who’s less personally appealing and less conservative than Mitt Romney, and who, by the way, is a member of the same family that occupied the White House for 12 of the last 26 years, was so traumatizing that it opened the Overton window to other possibilities wider. Even Trump critics like me enjoyed his emperor’s-new-clothes routine about Jeb, not because Bush is a bad guy but because it’s gratifying to see someone whom the political class had ordained as a sure thing deflated so easily with jabs about him being “low energy.” Jeb created the demand for Trump to some extent, so it’d be poetic justice for him now to help hand Trump the nomination by nuking everyone else. And if that did end up happening, I think Murphy and a bunch of other Jeb staffers (although maybe not Bush himself) would be just fine with it. If they can’t have the nomination, they’re damned well not going to let Jeb’s old pal Marco Rubio have it. They’ll make sure the celebrity freak show gets it in the hope and expectation that the GOP will come to ruin in the general election with him at the top of the ticket. That’s the mindset we’re dealing with here, I think. If it’s not going to be Jeb, the whole party should suffer for their treason to the crown.
Exit question: Right to Rise has already spent many, many millions of dollars on pro-Jeb ads in states like New Hampshire. His polling hasn’t improved at all. Why does anyone think their attacks on Rubio or Cruz or anyone else would do real damage? Especially with Rubio and Cruz firing back with ads of their own.