This story reads more like an attempt to pre-spin an outcome Team Trump doesn’t want than to encourage an outcome that it does want.
Sort of a “you can’t quit, you’re fired” message to Bush in the expectation that he is indeed preparing to “quit,” so to speak.
The Times reported a few days ago that people familiar with Bush’s thinking say he won’t support Trump this fall. Bush’s spokesman rushed out a statement insisting that that was “completely made up” and that Bush is “retired from presidential politics.” Why would Dubya be so reluctant to have Republicans think he was preparing to cross the aisle? For the same reason, I think, that Jeb Bush “isn’t sure how he’ll vote,” according to the Times. Namely, they don’t want to sabotage the chances of Jeb’s son, George P. Bush, for higher office. GPB is currently land commissioner in Texas and a potential future gubernatorial nominee. If the Bushes make enemies of Trump by endorsing Biden, Republican leaders in Texas and beyond may hold it against GPB. And he knows it: He told the Dallas Morning News today that he plans to vote for the president this fall because “President Trump is the only thing standing between America and socialism.”
So, no, I don’t think George W. or Jeb will be advertising their support for Biden if they end up ultimately voting for him. But I don’t think Team Trump sincerely hopes Dubya crosses the aisle either. It’d be idiotic under the circumstances.
To Team Trump, a Bush endorsement of Biden would allow them to hitch a formerly unpopular GOP president and the personification of dynastic politics to the Democratic Party’s 2020 ticket. They believe that Bush’s backing would drive the progressive wing of the party into a tizzy, especially if the Democratic nominee were to accept and promote it, creating internal strife for Biden at a time when he needs unity.
According to two people familiar with his private remarks on the matter, Trump has said it would be “fun” if he could effectively run against both Bush and Biden. These sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking say he views both Biden and Bush as emblematic of the political establishment that he successfully ran against in the last election, and that Trump continues to harbor a visceral distaste for members of the Bush family and administration.
“We would LOVE him to officially endorse Biden,” messaged a source close to the White House adding it “would be such a gift to us” citing the 43rd president’s legacy on trade, big government policies, and “constant war.”
One senior Trump campaign official even said that some on the team “desperately” wanted the 43rd president of the United States to come out for Biden 2020, as it would make for easy messaging fodder. “I imagine we want it about as much as a lot of Biden people would not want it,” the official said.
Why would it be idiotic? For starters, the strategy described in the excerpt reflects a 2016 mentality more so than a 2020 one. Trump already squashed dynastic politics by defeating Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton four years ago. The closest thing to a dynasty in America right now is the Trump family, as Don Jr clearly has aspirations to run for something going forward. “The establishment sucks” is a good message when you’re an outsider running against the queen of America’s establishment. “The establishment sucks” isn’t such a hot message when you’re president and there’s a pandemic, an economic catastrophe, and riots happening. Joe Biden’s as establishment a politician as there is in the U.S. and he’s currently eating Trump’s lunch in national polling. In fact, his core campaign message — “let’s get back to normal” — essentially embraces the good old days of establishment rule.
Being endorsed by the guy who invaded Iraq wouldn’t help with that “good old days” message but it might not hurt as much Team Trump thinks. Perceptions of Dubya have come a long way since he left office in 2008:
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) June 9, 2020
His likability, personal decency, and gracious silence during the Obama era as his policies were undone has earned him goodwill, and I’m sure some of those reluctant Trump voters in the suburbs still think of him fondly notwithstanding his foreign policy. He wouldn’t drive many votes to Biden if he endorsed him but there’s no reason to think he’d cost more votes than he’d earn by doing so. Someone who leans right but has misgivings about the president might be susceptible to persuasion by a politician they respect. Bush could matter marginally.
I don’t think progressives would care either. The Daily Beast interviewed several Dems for their story, asking them how they’d feel about Bush backing Biden, and no one said they’d balk over it. Fine by me, said James Carville. Fine by me too, said Jim Manley, former right-hand man to Harry Reid. Most surprising was Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California who’s about as far left as AOC is. (He co-chaired Bernie’s campaign.) “Our task is to build the broadest coalition possible,” he told the Beast. “I began my career in public service running against Bush’s war in Iraq in 2004. But no one doubts his commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness.” Progressives are well aware of Biden’s record on foreign policy, including his vote to invade Iraq, so having Bush endorse him wouldn’t tell them anything they don’t already know. If they’re willing to lay aside their grievances about Grandpa Joe in order to send Trump packing and propel their party to power, they’re willing to lay aside their grievances with Dubya for the same reason.
There’s one more reason why Team Trump would be nutty to want Bush on the other side:
That’s the latest data from Texas, land of the Bushes. Is Trump going to win there this fall? Probably. Would making an enemy of the Bush clan help him in that cause? Probably not. He’s already in deep trouble in Arizona this year, having repeatedly antagonized the McCain family by dumping on John. It’d be nutty for him to want to replicate that dynamic with another powerful political family in another crucially important state.
I think the whole “please endorse Biden, Dubya!” message is Team Trump preparing for that eventuality, and trying to frame it early as something they’d welcome, just in case it happens. The spin may even be aimed at the president himself. Last night I mentioned that his campaign had reportedly conducted and then leaked an internal poll that showed him gaining on Biden even though other internal Republican polling looked flat for him. The point of the leak was for Trump to boost Trump’s spirits, according to the Times — to “calm his frustration” about his political fortunes lately. The Beast published another story this morning reporting a second psy op aimed at the president by his own aides, one that reportedly cost $400,000 of donor money.
[O]ver the past month, the Trump campaign has spent slightly more than $400,000 on cable news ads in the Washington, D.C., area, buying time largely on Fox News but with some smaller buys on CNN and MSNBC as well, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission. The ads began running in late May and are scheduled through June 23. It is, on a purely electoral level, a remarkably quixotic use of campaign cash. The purchases have no real shot of moving D.C., Maryland, or Virginia into the Trump column…
[T]wo knowledgeable sources—one a Trump campaign adviser, the other an individual close to the president—said the D.C.-area ads had another purpose as well: to put the president himself at ease.
In recent weeks, Trump has grown visibly distraught at his prospects for re-election, with recent polling showing his standing in the race declining dramatically in the wake of a sustained coronavirus outbreak and resulting recession, and as demonstrators flood major cities to protest the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis last month.
Team Trump running ads in D.C. would be like Team Biden running ads in Wyoming. The odds of moving votes locally in a meaningful way are so remote that you might as well light the money on fire. In this case, though, the campaign wasn’t trying to persuade voters. They were trying to persuade their own candidate that they’re working hard for him and doing battle with George Conway’s Never Trump outfit, the Lincoln Project, which had also run an ad on D.C. television recently in hopes that Trump might see it. It’s bad enough that Never Trumpers would pay for airtime in Washington instead of, say, Michigan, but for Trump’s own campaign to waste its money is a sign of either absurd profligacy *or* a sign that Trump’s mood has deteriorated to the point that his political shop has to devote resources to actively managing it. The “we’d love Bush to endorse Biden” stuff may be part of the same mood management.