Frustrated Jeb mocks media criticism: "I should stop campaigning maybe"

I was thinking last night: Jeb 2016 would make for a dynamite movie about politics, wouldn’t it? You’ve got the smart, earnest, but awkward hero; the flawed but charming older brother in whose shadow the hero lives; the widely respected patriarch who expects the hero to carry on the family legacy; the younger, more charismatic protege turned rival who’s about to usurp the hero; the right-hand man who was supposed to turn family patronage into campaign success but has turned people against the hero; and of course the frontrunner, who represents everything the hero and his family oppose but who’s beloved by the people regardless. If the hero ultimately succeeds and wins the nomination, it’s a boring story of triumph over adversity under pressure. If he fails, though, it’s Greek tragedy about changing times, the temptation of winning at all costs, and the impotence of good intentions in a culture that rewards the cutthroat. All we’re waiting to see now is how the movie ends.

I’m pretty sure I know.

“The press is totally at the mercy of Donald Trump,” Bush said after Edward Scott, 58, a Bush supporter, stood up and expressed concern that his preparedness and policy ideas “doesn’t resonate” and that the bombastic businessman has been “knocking [him] off center.”

Moments later though, a second likely Bush supporter, David Villinger, 62, stood up and offered a similar lament that his campaign “has been co-opted by the P.T. Barnum of our time.”

Then a third questioner encouraged Bush to show more fire, asking Bush if he’d be more of “an [S.O.B.]” like his brother…

But after bulldozing through his 30 minutes of remarks, Bush struggled to mask his own frustration as he asked the audience to vote for him Saturday in words that were dripping with gallows humor.

“It’s all been decided, apparently,” Bush said. “The pundits have already figured it out. We don’t have to go vote. I should stop campaigning maybe.”

He told reporters he was “disappointed” that Nikki Haley had endorsed Rubio, which is putting it mildly. Yesterday he told NBC that her endorsement “would be the most powerful, meaningful one in the state,” which is a nice compliment for a pol you’re wooing but obviously not something you should say when there’s a chance that that powerful, meaningful endorsement will go to someone else. Good lord.

He’s in single digits in South Carolina per three of the last four polls and, thanks to Haley’s endorsement, may now stand more of a chance of finishing sixth behind Kasich and Ben Carson than third ahead of Rubio. If it’s any comfort, though, the “prize” for doing well in SC increasingly looks to be taking a beating from Trump in Nevada and the SEC primary in the next few weeks. A longtime Republican operative in South Carolina whom I trust sent me this take on the state of the race in SC this afternoon:

I can say that the Trump phenom is the most diverse coalition I’ve ever seen for any candidate – ever. From fundamental Baptist Deacons, to moderate Republican bankers, to liberal trial lawyers, to 2 man lawn service guys, to half-Puerto Rican divorced mothers. It’s a wild scene man.

What I’m seeing is not ideological at all…it’s just all frustration. And attacks just don’t work. I’ve said other candidates need to spend more time trying to attract his supporters based on the issues rather than attacking him, but I don’t think they will (at least not the establishment variety)…as they just don’t like those issues. So that settles that.

Further – and to the point of your Haley post – I’m not seeing that endorsements are moving anybody at all. Some might even say they hurt. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but I’m sure they’re not the big boon they used to be.

So much for South Carolina. As for Jeb, Dan McLaughlin wrote a persuasive post this morning, published hours before Jeb’s frustration started showing at his rally today, that he’s effectively done if he finishes fourth or worse in SC given that his Super PAC has already started canceling ad spending and the campaign itself is burning through what’s left of his cash. Unless Bush comes up with something on Saturday to give donors a reason to double down on him, he’s going to run out of gas. Good news for Rubio, although “good” news is all relative at this point.

I keep seeing anti-Trumpers on social media talking about a conservative independent effort this summer if Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, but the more I think about it the harder it is for me to imagine how that’ll work. Realistically, who’s going to sign up to lead that effort? Plenty of establishment Republicans will glom onto Trump, whether because they think he’ll be “malleable” in office or because they see no chance against Hillary if the right is split or simply because they’re opportunistic cretins who are happy to deal with a guy who represents various things they claim to oppose. Maybe you could enlist someone like Jon Huntsman to run as the “conservative” third-party guy, but … conservatives don’t like Huntsman and you’re unlikely to build any real momentum behind him. The obvious choice to lead the effort would be Mitt Romney given his name recognition, but I doubt Romney wants to wade back into the arena when the likeliest outcome is that he spends six months being insulted by Trump and then finishes a very distant third. There’s no name on the right, I think, that’s big enough to attract so many votes that they’d threaten to outpoll Trump; that being so, the best a conservative third-party could aspire to is to tilt the election to Hillary, which would cause a deep rift on the right in years ahead. The fantasy of an independent conservative who’s going to ride to the rescue feels to me like just another in the many anti-Trump fantasies that have failed to come to pass this past year — Trump will gaffe his way out of the race, Republican voters will eventually turn serious, Trump’s ground game will ensure his defeat, Trump will weaken as candidates start dropping out, and so on. No one’s coming to give conservatives an alternative to Trump. The question in November will be purely a matter of how many stay home.

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