As the old saying goes: There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal with $100 million in the bank.
The way forward has become a matter of debate for Mr. Bush, with his donors and advisers split on how to contend with Mr. Rubio. There is little appetite among contributors for a full-scale assault on the senator, who many of them like and would support if Mr. Bush quits…
But among Mr. Bush’s top aides and his super PAC, there is growing contempt for Mr. Rubio and a desire to attack him.
Danny Diaz, Mr. Bush’s hard-charging campaign manager, has told people he would like to accelerate the assault on Mr. Rubio. At a briefing earlier this month for congressional chiefs of staff whose bosses are backing Mr. Bush, Mr. Diaz bragged about the size of their opposition research file on the senator, and said they were prepared to begin a full-scale attack, according to a presidential campaign veteran who was briefed on the conversation and requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Mike Murphy, the longtime adviser to Mr. Bush who now controls the super PAC, has told people he would like to go after Mr. Rubio but does not want to do so immediately after the debate because it could reinforce a perception of desperation.
Imagine being a hotshot political consultant in Florida, wooed by both the Bush and Rubio camps before the campaign began, and deciding that Bush 3.0 was the way to go. There were reasons to think so. Bush could pay you more than Rubio could. Bush had a fundraising and operational team behind him that had won two national elections in the last 15 years. Bush had most of the Florida political establishment on his side. Bush had name recognition that Rubio could only dream of. Bush had executive experience, which Rubio lacks. Bush even (arguably) had less liability on the hot-button issue of immigration than Rubio has, thanks to his Gang of Eight debacle. Due to the ocean of early money that was sure to flood in to Bush, there was a fair chance that Rubio would pass on the race altogether, concluding that it was unwinnable against such long odds. The smart bet for political talent was to sign with Bush and trust that Rubio would either beg off running or would get in and putter along as the young appealing Robin to Jeb’s Batman, the center-right guy who’s going to be dynamite someday but isn’t ready yet.
Now fast-forward 10 months and behold the state of the race. If you’re that Florida consultant, having cast your lot with Jeb, you’d want to murder Rubio. You’d choke him with your bare hands if you could, because the guy you really want to choke — Jeb — is signing your checks and the guy you should be choking — Trump — laughs in your face at how puny you are. I think that, more than any strategic consideration, is why they’re hot to take out Rubio. Bushworld must be positively pulsating with frustration, and Jeb’s former sidekick in Florida, who “stole” Bush’s chance to run as the undisputed electable establishment guy and is now “stealing” votes and dollars that are supposed to be his, is the most obvious outlet. I’ll bet a few Bush advisors at this point would consider it a moral victory to blow up Rubio even if Jeb flames out of the race in doing so, and even though that would force the donor class into having to rally behind a longshot in Christie or Kasich to try to stop Trump and Cruz. The question is: Can pressure from Jeb’s donors to lay off Rubio really stop him from attacking? For any other candidate, donors saying no would force him to back off lest his money dry up. But Jeb’s Super PAC, Right to Rise, still has so much cash in the bank that they could brutalize Rubio without taking in another dime. It would be a kamikaze mission, and it would enrage any Republican who thinks Rubio’s the party’s best shot at winning next year, but maybe Team Jeb doesn’t care. They’ve been humiliated, and the only cure for humiliation is revenge. That would be an ironic ending to Bush’s campaign: The donor class, having wholly created Jeb 2016, would have to sit there and watch as he escapes from the lab and wrecks their second-favorite candidate.
As for the swirling mystery of what Team Bush was suggesting in that mysterious powerpoint about looking into Rubio’s background and being “concerned” with what it holds, I don’t think it’s much of a mystery what they were implying, just like it’s no mystery why the sudden go-to Democratic analogy for Rubio is John Edwards, not Barack Obama. A friend who’s tapped into Florida politics and would know the most salacious dirt about the state’s major players told me there’s nothing to the insinuations, but the whispers are a useful way to plant doubt about Rubio. That’s why, I think, Beth Myers felt obliged to speak up on Rubio’s behalf even though she’s a Jeb supporter and her candidate would benefit from this whispering campaign. She probably knows the insinuation is baseless and also knows that, because it’s personal, it could cause Rubio real pain. It’s one thing to hit him for messy finances, it’s another to mess with his family. We’ll see if Team Jeb takes the hint and lays off.