Well, Jeb Bush certainly thinks he is, and his team is trying to make sure everyone else does, too. The New York Times reported this morning on the hardball tactics from Team Bush in working with consultants and hiring staff, who are already deploying the “with us or against us” argument. That cost Rick Perry a long-standing relationship with one consultancy, but it’s ruffling feathers throughout the entire GOP spectrum:
The prestigious consulting firm, known for its close ties to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, was orchestrating an extensive effort to remake his image and prepare him for the 2016 presidential campaign.
But that was no deterrent for Jeb Bush. His team hired the firm anyway and quickly made it clear that it wanted undivided allegiance. The company, FP1 Strategies, soon severed ties with Mr. Perry, startling his staff.
Mr. Bush has vowed to run a “joyful” presidential campaign free from the seamier sides of party politics, projecting the air of a cerebral man almost effortlessly drawing together Republicans eager to help him seek the White House. But behind the scenes, he and his aides have pursued the nation’s top campaign donors, political operatives and policy experts with a relentlessness and, in the eyes of rivals, ruthlessness that can seem discordant with his upbeat tone.
Their message, according to dozens of interviews, is blunt: They want the top talent now, they have no interest in sharing, and they will remember those who signed on early — and, implicitly, those who did not. The aim is not just to position Mr. Bush as a formidable front-runner for the Republican nomination, but also to rapidly lock up the highest-caliber figures in the Republican Party and elbow out rivals by making it all but impossible for them to assemble a high-octane campaign team.
Ted Cruz talked about this at length but obliquely yesterday, warning conservatives of the consultant class that wants to produce a formulaic candidate designed to look only slightly to the right of Democrats in the mistaken belief that Democrats will choose a Republican carbon copy. That wasn’t specific to Bush, and Bush and his team would object to that characterization, but that is the conservative perception of Bush. The ham-handed tactics to force people to choose their allegiance this early in the cycle plays into that perception, as does the emphasis on locking up the very consultants to which Cruz referred.
Peggy Noonan scoffed at Bush’s argument of inevitability:
Mr. Bush’s operation is also, according to the New York Times, muscling party strategists and policy specialists to advise only him and no one else. Again a message is sent: Be with us now or we’ll remember later. It sounds tough and Clintonian. Actually it looks less like a sales pitch than a hostile takeover.
There’s something tentative and joyless in Mr. Bush’s public presentations. He isn’t mixing it up with voters or wading into the crowd. So far he is not good at the podium. His recent foreign-policy speech was both bland and jangly, and its one memorable statement—“I am my own man”—was the kind of thing a candidate shouldn’t have to say.
What is most missing so far is a fierce sense of engagement, a passionate desire to lead America out of the morass, a fiery—or Churchillian—certainty that he is the man for the moment. In its place we see a softer, wanner I’m smart, accomplished, know policy, and it’s my turn.
I am not sure Mr. Bush likes the base. If he doesn’t, it would explain some of his discomfort. I am wondering if he sees the base as a challenge, not a home, something he has to manage, not something he is of. He was perhaps referring to this in December when he said you have “to lose the primary to win the general.” Actually you have to winit, but to really succeed you have to show you share the base’s heart, that you understand its beginning points and align with it on essentials. When you disagree with it you address those issues among friends, and with confidence. You can’t cover up differences in a passive-aggressive way—at their feet when you really want to be at their throat.
Bush has raised a lot of cash quickly, and his early success in this area clearly intends to pre-empt other candidates. However, as Noonan points out, the polling shows that Bush isn’t gaining any traction outside the salons. At some point, even the big-money donors will get the message that the GOP wants a party of the future, not of the past. In an election where both parties offer nostalgia campaigns, Bush nostalgia will lose to Clinton nostalgia every time.
Earlier today, I made an appearance on Morning Joe to discuss CPAC and the energy here for Jeb Bush, which has been … non-existent. I didn’t get to mention this on the air, but for all Bush’s early fundraising prowess, there is no sign that they’ve organized for his CPAC appearance today:
I also discussed the Scott Walker joke about ISIS and Wisconsin unions. It’s a dumb line, an early attempt at humor that Walker should avoid in the future. Had Obama told an AFSCME audience that his experience dealing with the Tea Party during the ObamaCare debate demonstrated his ability to take on ISIS, conservatives would have screamed over being equated with Islamic terrorists. One dumb line won’t derail Walker — and the crowd loved him at CPAC — but that joke should get permanently lost.