Just one day after a lackluster showing at the Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., Jeb Bush acknowledged to donors Thursday afternoon that he needs to improve his debate performance.

“I realize I need to get better,” the former Florida governor said, according to one person present on the call.

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Campaigning in New Hampshire Thursday, Bush insisted his White House bid was “not on life support.”

Still, advisers concede November will be his campaign’s most crucial period to date, a stark contrast to their previous assertions that Bush was best-positioned to outlast rivals in a long campaign. Millions of dollars in TV advertising must start yielding stronger poll numbers, advisers say, and Bush himself must find a way to stop being overshadowed by competitors in the large GOP field…

“He was poorly served by whatever campaign adviser told him to go down that path with Marco,” said Brian Ballard, a major fundraiser for both Bush’s campaign and super PAC. “It’s not the kind of ideas campaign that he has promised.”

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“Never mark your ambush with flashing lights and traffic cones. Everyone in Florida politics heard this attack was coming since the weekend, and Marco was absolutely ready for it,” said Wilson, who actually hinted at the coming dig on Twitter before the debate began. “This was not Jeb at his best.”…

“Simply put, he whiffed,” said one South Carolina Republican, who is neutral in the 2016 race. “He needed a moment to assuage donor fears and it backfired. As much as people may say the Bush name is a hindrance, the reality is that his last name is the only thing keeping him in the conversation right now.”

But even Bush’s famous last name may not be enough to keep his supporters in line now.

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Bush’s fundraisers and backers were left trying to explain why the man they had poured so many dollars into still proved to be such a weak candidate, delivering what was widely seen as a meek and ineffective performance in Boulder, Colorado. Bush, speaking far less than many of his fellow candidates, took an aggressive swing at the man slowly intruding on his financial turf, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and lost badly in what emerged as the defining moment of the evening and the explosion of a half-year of simmering tension.

“I’m pretty damn glum tonight,” Bush ally and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro said after the debate, adding that Bush needs to “take the next 10 days … to really figure out how to dominate in debates.”…

And asked directly about concern that Navarro and others may feel, Bush said not to panic. “It’s a long haul. Ana, hang in there, girl. It’s a long haul, baby,” he said. “A few more debates to go. I’m out-campaigning everybody. I’m working hard and we’re raising the resources.”

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A cocky and often-winking Danny Diaz tried to assure reporters after the third GOP debate that all is well and that his candidate would be victorious in the end.

“I think we’re in for the long haul and we’re in to win, but I appreciate the question,” a smirking Diaz told The Daily Caller in the spin room when asked what he thinks the chances are Bush will still be in the race by the time of the Iowa caucuses…

When TheDC pointed out that strategy doesn’t seem to be working as Bush has dropped drastically in the polls since the summer, Diaz replied, “Currently in New Hampshire we’re third. In our bracket — we’re first in our bracket.”

“We’ve got more work to do,” he added. “This hasn’t been decided. Forty-six percent of New Hampshire voters decide in the last week. Stick with us, brother. We’ll be good.”

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Premeditated though it was, Bush delivered his attack line weakly, framing himself as “a constituent” of Rubio’s, complaining about “constituent service” rather than hammering Rubio for abrogating his elective responsibilities. The “French work week” filigree sounded nothing like Jeb (in fact, it sounded like his longtime strategist and current Right to Rise super-PAC impresario Mike Murphy) and was too clever by more than half. And once Rubio began his clearly well-rehearsed counter-punch, Jeb, apparently thinking he had already dropped the mic, was left stammering and slack-jawed—while the audience was left to draw the unavoidable conclusion that the protege was now the sensei.

From that point forward, Bush seemed gutted, pallid—a ghost rising spectrally from a car crash, looking down on the wreckage below. His tie askew, his bearing stiff, and his voice flat, he wandered aimlessly through thickets of tax policy and entitlement reform…

The problem for Bush, however, isn’t just that his performance last night was atrocious; the problem is that his performance was (and struck many elites, including his supporters as) utterly and deeply revealing. The debate in Boulder presented itself as a fundamental test for Bush. What the night required of him, what everyone was watching for, was a demonstration that, despite the myriad troubles that have plagued him months, he could still be the guy: the candidate with the performance skills and the fortitude not just to survive but to thrive under pressure. That’s what the GOP is understandably looking for in its standard-bearer. That’s what it takes to win the White House.

It was, as I said, a fundamental test—and Bush failed it, badly.

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Rival campaigns went so far as to suggest that Wednesday’s evening might have been the beginning of Bush’s end. That view was undoubtedly premature, but there was no denying that the evening was a dud for the one-time front-runner with deep pockets.

“There’s no need to pile on Gov. Bush after his performance tonight,” Marco Rubio‘s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, said after the debate. “Their exchange speaks for itself.”…

Going into the debate, Bush’s advisers said they thought the economic-focused debate would be in their wheelhouse. Instead, the night left the brother of one President and son to another on the defense and struggling to inject himself. The bookishness that made Bush eager for the debate rendered him unremarkable. “Bush’s campaign may be over,” former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on Twitter…

All eyes were on Bush as he left the debate state. Bush had pledged to run a joyful campaign, yet he looked on the verge of losing his composure at several moments.

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He just isn’t all that good at this. And he knows it…

Once the campaign began in earnest, however, it became clear that Bush was more than just rusty from having not run a campaign in more than a decade. He was simply underwhelming at every turn.  In each of the first two debates, while far less experienced pols such as Rubio, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz outshone Bush, his allies sifted through the scraps of the debate in search of signs of life. He said his brother had kept the country safe! He was the grownup on stage!  They insisted that Bush just needed to keep improving in each debate. He would never be the performer that Rubio and Cruz are but he didn’t have to be. He was Jeb, after all.

Those voices went silent after his flop in Boulder. (Sidebar: When your best argument is that you didn’t get enough time to talk and your last name is “Bush,” you are losing.) There is simply no way to spin what happened. Bush tried to do what his advisers told him he needed to. It didn’t work. In fact, it backfired badly. He spent the rest of the debate in the shadow of that failure…

If Bush wasn’t having much fun before, he really won’t be having any fun now.

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[H]is cur­rent situ­ation is something Bush has nev­er had to over­come be­fore. In 1994, he faced a hand­ful of primary op­pon­ents, but none could match his fam­ily name and its at­tend­ant fun­drais­ing abil­ity. He nearly won a clear ma­jor­ity in the primary, and the second-place fin­ish­er dropped out to save every­one the trouble of a run­off. In 1998, the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Flor­ida cleared the field for him, let­ting him start a gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign from day one, and in 2002 he was run­ning for reelec­tion and again had no primary chal­lenge.

Which means Bush faces per­haps the first real gut-check mo­ment of his polit­ic­al ca­reer. While the su­per PAC that sup­ports him out­raised the oth­er GOP can­did­ate-spe­cif­ic su­per PACs com­bined in the first six months of the year, the fun­drais­ing for his ac­tu­al cam­paign is not match­ing its lofty ex­pect­a­tions. Bush has been forced to slash payroll by nearly half and shrink what had been de­signed as a gen­er­al-elec­tion-cap­able cam­paign and re­fo­cus it on the early-vot­ing states.

Such a move in­vites me­dia cov­er­age sug­gest­ing a “death spir­al,” and Bush’s weak per­form­ance at Wed­nes­day night’s de­bate, par­tic­u­larly his in­stantly fam­ous ex­change with Ru­bio, fur­ther feeds in­to the Bush-on-the-ropes storyline.

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GOP presidental candidate Marco Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, and bundlers Wayne Berman and George Seay have been calling and e-mailing rival Jeb Bush’s bundlers since Wednesday’s debate trying to convert them, according to two people familiar with the talks.

According to one of the people, the Rubio camp is finding open minds, some anger over Bush going negative; some Bush bundlers are saying they need a “decent interval”; Rubio camp is casting the discussions as base-touching rather than “grave-dancing” and know it’s a “delicate courtship”

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Rubio aides Todd Harris and Anna Rogers held a conference call with Rubio’s financial backers on Thursday, and told them not to expect a massive immediate rush of defections among Bush’s donor base. There are heavy emotions involved when people make a switch like this, Harris said, and the campaign shouldn’t expect folks to just turn on a dime.

But big donors seem ready to move, according to some Rubio backers. Penry declined to discuss specific Colorado donors, although one of the biggest gets in the state, Larry Mizel, appears to be on board.

“Phones have been ringing off the hook all day,” the campaign official said. “Fundraisers already scheduled are seeing increased attendance—and lots of people want to host events.”

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As last night’s Republican presidential debate drew to a close, to the extent that the former GOP establishment frontrunner Jeb Bush made an impression, it was that of longtime Corleone family Consigliere Tom Hagen. A bright and loyal man, a competent fixer, he was also a man of an earlier generation and he seemed to be the last to know it. “You’re not a wartime Consigliere, Tom,” Hagen was gingerly informed by a younger man who had been in many ways his protégé, but who was now shaping the future of the organization to which he had devoted his life. “Things could get rough with the move we’re making.”…

After receding into the background for [most] of the debate, Bush was later asked if he the unregulated fantasy sports market needed more oversight. In another display of poor political instincts, Bush said that it did but that the federal government shouldn’t do the regulating – as though there was a third option. In response to this, New Jersey’s Chris Christie generated his wildest applause of the night by asserting that this issue was the least of the country’s worries, rattled off a brief list of the real challenges facing the nation, and attacked the moderators for wasting the public’s time. For Bush, his two most viable establishment-wing competitors in the race had bested him badly…

Like Hagen, Jeb Bush is a good man who deserved better; a conservative of repute and with a record of accomplishments, contrary to the fevered exhortations of his detractors. But his moment had passed, and his talents can almost certainly be put to better use elsewhere in the organization to which he is devoted. “Maybe I could help,” the resigned Hagen said in a perfunctory display of resistance to his fate. But the decision had already been made, and the reins of power passed. There was nothing left to discuss. “You’re out, Jeb.”

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That was campaign amateur hour.

Bush’s heart clearly was not in the attack and he came away bleeding badly. He failed to shine the rest of the debate except in a question about fantasy football, then had Chris Christie denounce the question as unserious — something Bush should have done.

Jeb Bush needs to take his campaign out back and shoot it — then decide if he really has the stomach for this. If so, he needs a new team. McCain was his guy in 2008. If Bush really wants this, he needs to completely shake up his campaign like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Tonight was just a sad end to a really good man who will more likely than not be henceforth referred to as a former Presidential candidate.

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He arrived at both the second and third debates with plans of attack against his chief rivals of the moment: Donald Trump last time, Marco Rubio this time. Both times, he failed to anticipate and prepare for the most obvious opponent reaction. What followed were humiliating climb-downs by Bush…

His confrontation with Marco Rubio did not have to end badly for him. When Marco Rubio brushed off criticism of Rubio’s absenteeism from the Senate by invoking John McCain, Bush could have hit back hard. “Seriously Marco? You’re comparing yourself to John McCain? McCain is an American hero, he’s chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he created the 9/11 commission, he’s written more laws than you’ve read. The problem is not just that you’re away a lot … the problem is that you don’t do anything even when you’re there. Frankly, you’ve never done anything.” Then—sticking the knife in—“Why Marco, you even failed to pass the immigration amnesty deal you co-wrote with Chuck Schumer.”…

Twice, Bush has said that if the campaign is going to be a ridiculous carnival, he doesn’t want to participate. Guess what? Presidential campaigns are always, to a considerable extent, ridiculous carnivals. But that’s not the only thing they are, or have to be, and it’s the quality and character of a presidential candidate to elevate them into something more…

More and more, it seems no coincidence that he succeeded in government so long, and only so long, as a real estate bubble lifted his state’s economy. He was a man for one season, the languid summer, and not our present time of storm and ice.

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Yogi Berra once famously said something to the effect of: “If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.” Bush has the same fundamental problem: If nobody wants to vote for you, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. No amount of money can change the fact that Bush doesn’t seem to have a base of support. Aside from people being paid by him, I don’t know many enthusiastic Bush supporters.

At this point, it seems the likelihood of Bush a) tarnishing his reputation and b) inadvertently helping Donald Trump win the GOP nomination greatly exceeds the chance that he could turn things around. His body language betrays a guy who doesn’t really want to do what it takes to win today — and who is out of step with the current Republican Party…

One gets the sense that he wants to cry “No Mas,” but accepting defeat might not be part of the entitled Bush D.N.A. The danger is that he might decide that it’s easier to attack Rubio via TV ads than in person, and that would be a shame.

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Why does the conventional wisdom matter so much for Bush? Two reasons. First, because (as we pointed out before the debate) Bush’s “fundamentals” aren’t all that strong. He entered the debate with middling favorability ratings and polling at about 7 percent nationally. His endorsements have all but dried up: just two since Labor Day and none in the past three weeks, according to our endorsement tracker. His third-quarter fundraising totals were mediocre. This wasn’t a case like that of Hillary Clinton, who even at her worst moments was polling at 45 percent and had the overwhelming support of the Democratic establishment. Bush had a lot of work to do to gain the lead in the first place.

The other reason the conventional wisdom matters for Bush is because Bush is running a conventional campaign. It’s not as though he has all that much grassroots support: Only 3 percent of his fundraising has come from small donors. Instead, Bush needs the support of Republican elites — and favorable media coverage — to signify to reluctant Republican voters that he’s a viable nominee. And he needs their financial backing to win a potential war of attrition…

[W]hether it’s Cruz or Trump or Carson ahead, the Republican establishment can’t wait that much longer to get its act together. And the most expedient way to do that may be to kick Bush to the curb.

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In the coming days, journalists will gorge themselves on stories about Jeb’s collapse. But collapse implies that Jeb had much real support to begin with. What he had was money. The media crowned him frontrunner on the assumption that he could turn that money into votes. Republicans, it was assumed, are orderly and hierarchical. Once the party elite gets behind someone—even someone like John McCain or Mitt Romney whom grassroots conservatives distrust—the unwashed eventually fall in line.

Not this time. All September, Trump tormented Bush. Now Rubio has flattened him too. On a human level, it’s painful to watch. But structurally, it’s kind of wonderful. Maybe Republican voters are responding to outsiders. Maybe they’re responding to demagogues. Maybe they’re just responding to candidates who put on a good show. But in the process, they are repudiating the elite assumption that the actual primaries are merely an extension of the “invisible primary.” They are insisting that even in the age of Super PACs, money and votes are not the same.

If reaffirming that requires watching Jeb Bush be humiliated by his former protégé as millions of Americans look on, it’s a small price to pay.

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Bush’s top lieutenants convened with donors in sopping wet Houston on Monday to calm their fears and retrench for the unforgiving haul ahead.

After the confab, Bush’s team distributed a 45-page PowerPoint presentation to select reporters, summarizing an optimistic view of the race, touting the Republican candidate’s cash and organization, and assuring supporters that early polls are rarely indicative of ultimate success…

Additionally, while the slides released to the media outlined Bush’s overarching argument against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – that he’s the GOP’s Barack Obama – the complete offering contains more biting, detailed slights, pointedly questioning the character and ethics of Bush’s home state rival.

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