If Rubio finished third with, say, 14 percent last night, today Team Jeb would be touting it as proof that he’s a paper tiger with a hard ceiling in the mid-teens and that the only hope of “somewhat conservative” voters against Trump and Cruz is a RINO with a giant war chest. That might have appealed to undecideds in New Hampshire, especially if it’s true that there’s a “Stop Trump” faction that cares more about Trump losing than any of the other candidates winning.
But we are where we are. Rubio finished so well that, with another day of campaigning in Iowa — or a few million dollars less in Right to Rise attack ads — he might have actually nudged past Trump for second place. As it is, with him having blown past 20 percent there while Bush, Kasich, and Christie failed to crack single digits combined, there’s no reason for Jeb Bush and Mike Murphy to keep going except to sabotage Rubio in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And the only beneficiaries of doing that at this point are Trump and Cruz. Stark choice for Jeb: Keep attacking Marco and help your least favorite candidate in the race by doing so, or lay off this week and help your “dear friend” chart a path for the nomination by finishing strong in NH? At this point, if Jeb’s serious about stopping Trump, the best thing he could do would be to drop out and support Rubio. Failing that, he could at least leave Rubio alone and aim the Right to Rise death star at Trump for a few days. It’s a matter of strategy. If you’re not going to be the nominee at this point, why not use what influence you have to make sure the nominee is the guy who’s most to your liking?
Bush 2016 being what it is, I assume it’s full speed ahead in killing Rubio. But not for much longer if you’re a Jeb donor:
With the GOP hierarchy warming to Rubio, the squeeze is suddenly on struggling establishment contenders Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Bush, who must convince party higher-ups that they have a reason to continue on. On Tuesday morning, top Bush donors and finance officials held two conference calls to discuss the path forward. On one, according to one participant, there was an acknowledgement of the campaign’s increasingly long odds and an agreement that, barring a strong Bush showing in New Hampshire, many Bush donors would soon bolt to Rubio.
“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘rattle of death?’” the participant said, describing the mood on both calls…
Two Bush aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was growing concern that Rubio was on the verge of getting a wave of endorsements from senators, state party chairs, and influential party officials and donors – a scenario, they conceded, that would give Rubio an aura of invincibility in the fight for support in the establishment lane. For Bush to remain viable, they said, he would need to out-perform Rubio in New Hampshire, a state that the former Florida governor has made a cornerstone of his primary campaign. Many top GOP officials see the state as the last, best chance for Rubio’s establishment rivals to stop him.
Bush reportedly courted Tim Scott but that endorsement went to Rubio last night. It’s not just Politico’s sources who hear Bush donors trudging towards the lifeboats either:
“It’s now a three-person race,” Rubio’s spokesman assured Time this morning. Granted, one of those persons hasn’t won a state yet or led a single poll in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina in many months, but the “invisible primary” is arguably more important than any state and it sounds like Rubio’s now got that one about wrapped up. BuzzFeed looked at FEC records for the last few months of last year and found that some Bush donors have already been transitioning to Rubio: 119 contributors to Jeb quietly gave money to Rubio for the first time in December, with many more doubtless set to kick in this week if they haven’t already. On the betting site PredictWise, Rubio went from a 33 percent chance of winning the nomination last night to 54 percent after Trump’s defeat was secure. Pretty good night for Mr. Third Place. Jeb’s night in Iowa was … less good:
According to ad-buy data collected by Morning Consult, Bush and his super PAC, Right to Rise, have spent about $14.1 million on ads in Iowa. That’s more money than any other presidential candidate has spent in the state. And ultimately, the return on investment for Bush was dismal.
Since he received just 2.8 percent of the vote in Iowa Monday night — and walked away with just one delegate — Bush ended up spending about $2,800 per vote.
That’s about 18 times as much money as first-place winner Ted Cruz spent for each vote he received. It’s also 34 times as much as silver medalist Donald Trump spent, and 10 times the amount spent by third-place winner Marco Rubio.
Bush’s Super PAC still had an amazing $58 million in cash on hand as of New Year’s Day, meaning that they can keep launching missiles at whoever they like well on into March and beyond, but their pool of big donors has already dried up and blown away. Per the latest campaign finance reports, after receiving contributions from 9,400 donors in the first half of 2015, Right to Rise received donations from … 155 in the second half. Out of a total haul of $15.1 million raised in that period, $10 million came from one donation from one individual. Bush’s donors have already abandoned ship. He’s running now out of pride and, perhaps, spite.
As for Iowa, it’s tempting to say that he shouldn’t be mocked for losing badly when he didn’t really contest the state, but not contesting it wasn’t part of the original plan. When he first got into the race early last year, he reached out to GOP bigwigs in Iowa to prepare for a campaign there. And why not? His brother and father both won during their first runs for president. Traditionally, Iowa has been Bush country. As recently as four months ago, he predicted he’d win the caucus. As it is, the only thing Right to Rise got for its $14 million was one delegate and the consolation that tearing into Rubio on TV might have made the difference in him finishing slightly behind a guy who spent last summer humiliating Bush every day instead of finishing slightly ahead. And the punchline is, it doesn’t much matter for New Hampshire either way. Rubio got what he wanted from Iowa despite Bush’s best efforts and now he can effectively eliminate Jeb and Trump if he somehow pulls off an upset win next Tuesday. How would that be for irony — Trump and Bush, shoved towards the exit by the same guy on the same night.
Exit question: When does Jeb get out? He’s not going to push on to Florida, peeling crucial center-right votes away from Rubio in South Carolina and the SEC states without any hope of winning, is he?