Wait, isn’t Jeb supposed to be all Trump, all the time at this point? And why is he running this in Iowa, which he’s barely contesting and where he’s polling as low as two percent in some surveys, instead of in his must-win state of New Hampshire?
This sums it up pretty well, I think:
I wonder how many donors to the Jeb! super PAC thought "this will be used to bloody up Rubio while Trump is 30 points ahead of us."
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 29, 2015
The strategy here is to blow up Rubio early, even before New Hampshire, so that he limps into that state with lots of doomsaying media buzz around him. If Rubio finishes fourth in Iowa behind Cruz, Trump, and also-ran Ben Carson, the press will be calling him a paper tiger as late deciders in New Hampshire start to decide. In theory, that’s going to tip would-be Rubio voters towards Jeb, who’ll finish strongly in NH and then use the “comeback!” coverage to claim he’s the consensus center-right choice in a three-way race with Trump and Cruz. In practice, I think a lot of disappointed Rubio fans would break for Christie rather than Jeb (especially if Jeb is perceived as having ruined Rubio’s chances), which is why we’ll presumably be seeing some Bushworld attacks on Christie soon too. The only hope Jeb has is to nuke everyone in his lane and force Republicans to choose between him, Trump, and Cruz. He’s laying a simple bet that, when push comes to shove, there are enough “somewhat conservative” voters out there who detest Trump and Cruz that they’ll vote for the most underwhelming Republican in the race to stop them if he’s their only choice. We’ll know that Jeb’s “nuke everyone” strategy is in effect if and when we start seeing anti-Christie ads too. If we don’t see those ads, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that Bush wants to stop his younger, more appealing rival Rubio more than he wants to win. Given the 41/43/Trump/Rubio psychodrama that seems to suffuse Jeb’s campaign, I wouldn’t put anything past them.
But look at it this way: His PAC, Right to Rise, has spent tens of millions of bucks trying to promote Jeb thus far and has gotten nothing for its money. He’s battling Kasich for fifth place in New Hampshire right now; he hasn’t touched nine percent in RCP’s polling average of the state in nearly two months. Positive ads are doing zip for him. He might as well start lighting people on fire and hoping he’s the only establishmentarian left when the flames go out. And there’s reason to think this sort of ad, attacking Rubio’s Senate attendance, might do damage in Iowa even if most other voters shrug it off. Republicans ran the same sort of attack on Democrat Bruce Braley in last year’s Senate race with Joni Ernst and he lost by more than 10 points. Jeb can’t hit Rubio on his real liability, immigration reform, since he’s as bad on that issue as Rubio himself is (rhetorically, given his “act of love” hosannas, he’s probably worse), so he’s stuck shooting around the bullseye instead of at it. The ad below is the result. Same goes for Christie, a newly minted border hawk who’s fooling no one and who’s also concentrating on Rubio’s attendance record even though he seems to be governing New Jersey from the campaign trail in New Hampshire this year.
Oh, by the way: The ad itself is highly misleading.
The ad references a classified hearing on the Paris attacks that Rubio missed in November due to a fundraising trip to California. Rubio’s office, however, said he had attended a briefing the day before and today, his campaign tweeted a link to a report in which Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley defended Rubio.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said: “Bush’s team dishonestly omits that Marco is on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, where he attended the highest level briefings on the Paris attacks. No other candidate for president has received more classified Intelligence briefings or better understands the threats facing our nation today than Marco. It’s sad to see Jeb’s ‘joyful’ campaign reduced to such intellectual dishonesty.”
Rubio missed the full Senate briefing on the Paris attacks because, as a member of the intel committee, he’d already sat through it at an earlier briefing — and the intel committee sees intelligence that the full Senate doesn’t. But what does Jeb care? Worst case scenario is that he wrecks Rubio and then either Bush or Christie becomes the establishment champion, only to get the tar beat out of them by Cruz and/or Trump in a three-way race and lose any chance of a center-right nominee in 2016. Oh well.
Two exit questions for you. One: Why didn’t Team Jeb mention Rubio missing the big vote on the omnibus spending bill? That’s the one that got conservatives in a lather. If you want to convince undecided Iowans to stick with Cruz or Carson, it’s a no-brainer to note that Rubio was too busy campaigning to lend his voice against legislation that disgusted fiscal cons across the country. Two: Who’s going to be the lucky beneficiary of Trump’s wrath if and when he finally reaches for his wallet?
My campaign for president is $35,000,000 under budget, I have spent very little (and am in 1st place).Now I will spend big in Iowa/N.H./S.C.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2015
Supposedly he’s planning a multimillion dollar ad blitz of his own. Cruz should be the obvious target but Trump has maintained their truce over the past few weeks since the debate. Maybe Trump’s also focused on taking out Rubio, thinking that’ll clear the way for him to win New Hampshire and then engage Cruz in South Carolina. That would be a fitting way for Jeb 2016 to end — with Bush and Trump united in destroying the other center-right guy from Florida whom most of Jeb’s staff seems to know and like. What a disaster.