It’s the first time since Election 2012, notes CNN, that any Republican has held a lead greater than the MOE. Establishmentum?
A poll this early, when Jeb momentarily has the field to himself, is 99 percent useless — but since it’s a slow holiday news week, let’s explore that remaining one percent. Bush has gained nine points since last month’s poll, a bounce obviously driven by his splashy early entry into the race. Will Chris Christie and Rand Paul get similar bounces when they jump in? Here’s your benchmark.
He takes nearly one-quarter — 23% — of Republicans surveyed in the new nationwide poll, putting him 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tallied 13%.
Physician Ben Carson comes in third, with 7% support, and Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are both tied for fourth with 6%…
Sixty-nine percent say they want a nominee that can beat the Democratic candidate for president, even if that person doesn’t agree with them on every issue, while only 29 percent of GOP primary voters are purists.
And that makes Bush the candidate to beat in a GOP primary.
The crosstabs are here. Interestingly, Bush’s bounce didn’t come at the expense of his centrist rival Christie. Christie’s numbers inched upward too, from nine percent in November to 13 percent now; it’s the other candidates in the field (with the notable exception of Marco Rubio) who lost support as Bush picked some up, particularly Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. Christie’s gain is probably a reaction to Jeb’s announcement among “somewhat conservative” voters who don’t want to nominate a tea partier but also shudder at the thought of nominating a third Bush in less than 25 years. Makes me wonder what’ll happen to Jeb’s numbers once Christie makes things official early next month. The fact that Bush is pulling votes mainly from Carson and Huck is revealing too. That doesn’t make sense if you know their politics: Carson and Huckabee will compete for social conservatives, not a key niche for Jeb. But if you don’t know their politics, as many low-information GOP voters don’t, it makes lots of sense, as Huck and Carson are probably the best-known candidates in the prospective field right now thanks to their presence on Fox News. Once Jeb made headlines by announcing he was running, people who were backing Huckabee and Carson purely on name recognition migrated over to a candidate whose name they knew even better. Remember that the next time someone tells you that the “Bush” brand is a liability for Jeb even in a Republican primary.
On the other hand, how durable is this lead, really?
Jeb leads the field by 10 partly because many voters haven’t heard yet about his greater conservative heresies. And as far as the Bush brand goes, a new Rasmussen poll out today finds that 34 percent of likely Republican voters wish he wouldn’t run for president versus 33 percent who are glad that he will. There’s Christie’s strategy in a nutshell — find as many centrists among that 34 percent as you can and present yourself as the non-dynastic RINO choice. Meanwhile, Matt Lewis is right that national polls, while fun, are almost meaningless in a state-primary system. If Bush can’t play in socially conservative Iowa and ends up underperforming in New Hampshire, he’ll be done before February 2016 no matter what his national numbers look like.
Exit question one: Look again at that table of Jeb’s heresies. Is it, in fact, bad news for him — or good news? For each question, no less than 58 percent of Republicans say his position will either make no difference to their vote or will make them more likely to vote for him. Since probably 35-40 percent of the GOP electorate won’t vote for an anointed RINO like him under any circumstances, that means his heresies aren’t hurting him much with the 60 percent of the electorate he’s counting on. Good news for him, no? Exit question two: Lewis argues, contra conventional wisdom, that we should all hope for a smaller Republican presidential field of six candidates or so, not another behemoth 15-man battle royale with people like Carson and Rick Santorum who obviously aren’t going to win the nomination. Is he right? Conservatives will hate that idea, I assume, since fewer candidates overall means fewer righties onstage at the debates. More righties onstage also means more ways to split the conservative vote, though, something Bush and Christie are counting on — especially in Iowa — to give the party’s establishmentarians a shot at winning early. The conservative strategy should be to find a right-wing candidate early, consolidate behind him, and then let Bush and Christie divide the center while the tea-party champion sweeps to victory. That’s what Ted Cruz is counting on, I’m sure. For what it’s worth, he’s at four percent in CNN’s new poll, down from seven last month and now a point behind Rubio. Hmmmm.