Jeb Bush: "I feel much better back here" in fifth place polling single digits than I did as frontrunner

You believe him, don’t you? A guy who went out and raised $100 million for his Super PAC in the expectation that it would chase his competition from the field wanted a long, hard, character-building slog to the nomination filled with personal humiliation from a blowhard like Trump. Especially after his dad and brother each won their first nominations with little trouble (McCain’s 2000 insurgency notwithstanding).

I view the whole Bush campaign at this point through the lens of psychodrama, which makes this interview feel less like he’s spinning John Dickerson than that he’s trying to talk himself into believing everything’s kinda sorta working out for the best. A rich man who loses everything will devote a lot of mental energy to the idea that, in some ways, his position has never been better.

“To a certain extent, it is a little liberating to be able to post up against a guy who is not qualified to be president,” Bush said in the CBS interview, which was excerpted by the website Politico.

I … suppose that’s true. It’s hard to imagine Jeb in a Trump-less race calling another candidate a “jerk,” but he has nothing to lose at this point. If throwing punch after punch at Trump doesn’t work, oh well. At least he had some fun lashing out at someone who diminished him. And maybe, as New Hampshire starts to make up its mind, the contrast he’s drawing with Cruz and others as someone who not only won’t toady to Trump but who’ll attack him joyfully will tilt a few late-deciding Trump-hating voters towards Jeb. Beats me how that gets him past Rubio and Christie, but like I said last week, we’re at the “heave the ball down the field and hope for the best” stage of Jeb 2016. And look: There is something to the idea that Jeb would be a more acceptable nominee now, having spent time as a laughingstock, than he would have been if his initial plan to lock up the race early had worked out. Even Jeb-haters, while opposing him to the bitter end, would respect his perseverance. Jeb without a coronation is preferable to Jeb with one. Although I don’t think we need to worry about either anymore.

Or do we? Philip Klein makes a trenchant point about Grahamnesty quitting the race:

That said, as long as Graham was in the race, there was no way that his friend and ideological compatriot, Sen. John McCain, would be able to endorse another candidate for president. But now that Graham is out, McCain’s endorsement is up for grabs

Sen. Ted Cruz’s hope is that he wins Iowa, and then when the race gets to New Hampshire, Sen. Marco Rubio will have trouble consolidating support that’s now divided among Govs. Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush.

But were McCain to endorse Rubio, it could give him the boost he needs in New Hampshire and upset Cruz’s strategy. Though, embracing McCain could also complicate Rubio’s broader effort to deflect criticisms that he’s weak on immigration.

McCain’s endorsement may mean nothing to you but he’s a former party nominee who won New Hampshire twice. It’ll mean something there. My hunch is that if he endorses before the big vote, it won’t be Rubio who gets it. McCain was complimentary of Rubio in this Weekly Standard interview from last year but his pal Lindsey was notably cool to him, complaining that he’s “afraid of the right” and saying, “He’s a good guy, but after doing immigration with him—we don’t need another young guy not quite ready.” You would think Rubio would be a natural fit for the two of them given his views of amnesty and interventionism, but maybe there’s a bit of ego at work there: If Rubio is the nominee then suddenly he, not McCain and Graham themselves, is the face of Republican immigration reform and neoconservative foreign policy. The obvious alternative if they don’t want to back Rubio is Christie, another superhawk who’s scrapped with McCain/Graham enemies like Rand Paul. How about Jeb, though? McCain became a stalwart ally of Dubya on foreign policy after their pre-Iraq falling out and Jeb has plenty of former Bush 43 advisors onboard his campaign. Christie’s only a few points ahead of Bush in most NH polls. A McCain endorsement could, in one fell swoop, make Bush seem like a serious contender there again, and since some NH voters simply want to vote for someone other than Trump, whoever seems “serious” and is surging near the end could become the choice of a lot of late deciders. It’s a longshot, but McCain’s backing might be the one move left for Team Bush that puts them kinda sorta back in the race in their key state.

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