A pre-debate hors d’oeuvre for you in recognition of the fact that Bush schadenfreude is really the only common ground left to us in the 2016 race anymore. You’ve got the Cruz fans here, the Trump fans there, some Carson fans milling about, a smattering of Rubio fans mixed in, all convinced of two things. One: Their guy is the guy. Two: Jeb Bush is not the guy. Bush fatigue is the tie that binds, my friends.
Let’s start in South Carolina with PPP:
He led South Carolina with 19% in February. Now he’s in 5th place at 8%, but more importantly voters don’t seem to be buying his relaunch. Only 26% agree that ‘Jeb can fix it’ to 55% who say they think he can’t. Those numbers are a function of his overall unpopularity with the GOP base in the state- just 36% see him favorably to 46% who have a negative view of him. He continues to particularly have credibility issues on the right- only 4% of ‘very conservative’ voters support him and his favorability with them is 32/49.
At 23/40, the only Republican with a remotely plausible path to the nomination with worse favorables than Jeb is John Kasich, who’s now firmly occupied the “Republican who hates Republicans” Huntsman niche in the race under the brilliant tutelage of John Weaver. Trump leads the state overall, incidentally, with 25 percent, but that represents a 12-point drop since September. That makes two recent polls of South Carolina that show Trump narrowly leading and one that shows Ben Carson narrowly leading. Whatever the truth is, it’s obvious now that the race really has tightened there. Trump’s also seen his head-to-head leads there evaporate: He’s tied now with both Rubio and Cruz and he trails Carson by 13. The only top-tier candidate he leads big is — ta da — Jeb Bush, 57/32. Remember that the next time you hear someone from Team Jeb say that they’re itching for a one-on-one battle with Trump.
Next up: A new national poll from ABC/WaPo. The good news here for Jeb is that his favorable rating among Republicans is net positive at 56/37. The bad news is that 37 percent unfavorable is the highest such rating among any top-tier Republican, eight points higher even than Trump’s. The worse news is that, when you ask all Americans to rate the Republican candidates, Mr. Electable doesn’t fare so hot:
He’s on par with Trump and considerably worse than Ted Cruz, whom centrists have been telling us for years could never win a presidential election because he’s too unlikable. If you’re a Jeb fan, the counterspin here is easy: This is a poll of adults, not likely or even registered voters, which makes it a curio at best. Fair enough, but one of the factors undecided voters and donors are weighing is whether Bush or his new nemesis Marco Rubio stands a better chance in a general election against Hillary. At the very least, Rubio is starting from a much better position with Americans. Given the Bush anchor around Jeb’s ankles, it’s hard to imagine him ending in a better position.
Next comes YouGov, whose new national poll has Bush sliding to … three percent, tied with undercard debater Chris Christie. As I recall, Scott Walker was at five percent in one of the last polls before he pulled the plug. The trend lines in Jeb’s favorability are not good:
Neither is his perceived electability. Again, if you’re trying to decide between Rubio and Bush, what are you thinking looking at a graph like this?
Trump leads the poll overall with 32 percent versus 18 for Ben Carson, although when you combine the first and second choices of voters, the two are nearly evenly split. Notes YouGov, “More than a third of Trump supporters say Carson is their second choice; one in four Carson supporters name Trump as their next favorite candidate.” That’s further evidence that in order for Ted Cruz to really break big, he may need not just one but both of the frontrunning outsiders out of the race before Iowa.
Finally we come to the new McClatchy-Marist national poll. How do you mount a comeback when news of the comeback itself is apt to further alienate voters?
You can spin that, I guess, by chalking it up to the fact that most of the coverage of Jeb’s campaign has been negative lately. Spend two months telling voters that he’s in a tailspin and, go figure, they’ll like him less as they hear more about him. If, on the other hand, the narrative were suddenly to change and reporters had reason to sense a comeback, maybe these numbers would change too. What if, though, this is a reaction not to bad news about his campaign but rather to news that he’s suddenly gone negative on Rubio? Attacking is a bad look for Jeb for lots of reasons — he seems uncomfortable with it, it feels desperate given his downturn in the polls, and given his financial advantage and establishment connections, it reeks of the spoiled rich kid lashing out because he’s had a much harder time of things in the big competition than he expected. Jeb also looks weak attacking Rubio after taking punch after punch from Trump this summer; Rubio, who’s well liked by Republicans and hasn’t done much attacking himself, seems like the little brother Jeb is picking on because he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the bully who keeps taking his lunch money. If that’s what’s driving these numbers, then Jeb’s in big trouble in light of the news that his team wants to go all in on destroying Rubio. Or maybe I’m overthinking this and the real reason voters like Bush less the more they see him is a simple function of his debate performances. He is in fact low energy and tends to get lost onstage when he isn’t bombing in an attempted attack on Rubio. If that’s what’s going on here, then … he’s also in trouble. Good luck tonight, big guy.
Carson leads that poll overall, by the way, 24/23. The national lead in next week’s polls is probably a jump ball between him and Trump at this evening’s debate.