Earlier today, I asked, “What’s the raison d’être for Jeb! 2016 now?” Last night I put it more bluntly on Twitter:
Prediction: Jeb's out before the next debate.
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) October 29, 2015
Chuck Todd told Today’s panel this morning that the Team Bush contingent had the air of “a wake” after the debate:
[T]he most significant story from last night is that Jeb Bush’s campaign now finds itself on life support, especially after Bush swung and missed when trying to hit Rubio over his Senate voting record. As one Republican operative told NBC’s Peter Alexander, Bush had to demonstrate to his supporters and donors — after a rough last few weeks — that the former Florida governor could land a punch, particularly after telegraphing to the political world that it was coming. But Bush missed. Badly.
It was the equivalent of a teenager who, after telling the whole school that he was going to fight a classmate at lunchtime, ended up being the one taking the licking. We’ve covered politics long enough to know that a presidential candidate can rise from the dead (John McCain), withstand a bad debate performance (Barack Obama), and shine when it counts rather than months before the first votes are cast (John Kerry). But Jeb Bush is in trouble right now. Big trouble.
Bush has to do something to buy time: For Bush, last night’s debate will either be the moment that ended his presidential campaign, or the point when his campaign hit rock bottom (because he can’t go any lower, right?). But to buy time, Team Bush has to do SOMETHING to calm the campaign’s most ardent supporters — whether it’s new campaign staff or Bush admitting to strategic mistakes. The bad news for the campaign was last night. The silver lining: Every president and nominee has faced some near-death experience.
Yes, Bush has a large campaign chest, and has dominated the donor lists for some time. Where has that gotten him? He’s faded into the also-rans, now running behind Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, as well as Donald Trump and Ben Carson. In one sense, Bush’s supporters have been waiting for him to “do something” for almost a year. The examples for “silver linings” that Todd uses were all still competitive by this point in their cycles — yes, even McCain and Kerry had gotten within striking distance of the leaders. Bush is going the opposite direction.
Matt Lewis has seen enough:
At this point, it seems the likelihood of Bush a) tarnishing his reputation and b) inadvertently helping Donald Trump win the GOP nomination greatly exceeds the chance that he could turn things around. His body language betrays a guy who doesn’t really want to do what it takes to win today — and who is out of step with the current Republican Party.
Bush’s low point came when he tried to attack Marco Rubio, and was immediately slapped down. If last night really was a “do or die” moment for his campaign, then it’s time for the Bush family to begin making “arrangements.”
One gets the sense that he wants to cry “No Mas,” but accepting defeat might not be part of the entitled Bush D.N.A. The danger is that he might decide that it’s easier to attack Rubio via TV ads than in person, and that would be a shame.
We’re no longer in the silly season, CNBC aside. The time for hard truths for candidates who are not distinguishing themselves has arrived, and the time for donors to have those long talks with their favorites has too. Bush should choose this moment to leave not just for that failure to gain traction, but for the strange decision to personally attack Rubio — and to botch it as badly as he did. Even beyond the fact that Bush has spent almost a year and ended up among the statistical noise despite all of his organizational and financial advantages, this all but proved that he’s simply not a good enough candidate to run in the general election.
But Bush shouldn’t be the only candidate to exit as October turns to November. Here are a few others:
The entire undercard — They’re entertaining, but that’s it. The dual-debate format is wearing down audiences without adding anything to the GOP’s chances for victory. They’ve had three tries at bouncing out of the second division, and all four are still the Cleveland Spiders. Enough. Reince Priebus should put an end to the warm-up act if the candidates themselves won’t do it.
Mike Huckabee — He’s a former governor who connects well with people, but he’s going nowhere despite his high media profile over the last several years. Three debates is enough.
Rand Paul — Perhaps the biggest surprise of this cycle is how little traction Paul actually has among Republicans nationally. He’s not good in the debate format, either. The longer he stays in, the more chance he has of doing damage to a race Paul can win — his Senate re-election bid. He has a fallback plan, and it’s time to deploy it.
John Kasich — Last night was supposed to be a do-or-die moment for Kasich, who completely changed his approach … and failed again to impress. Kasich should concentrate on making himself into a viable running mate for the general election, especially since Ohio will be critical for the GOP, and part of that will be to disappear for a while rather than attacking other Republicans indiscriminately.
That leaves us with six candidates — the same six that Jonathan Last cites, by the way: Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Fiorina. All of them add substance and style to the mix onstage, and six people is about the maximum manageable for substantive discussions on policy. Christie and Fiorina are not likely to contend for the top spot, but they are tough onstage and have remained their authentic selves throughout the contest. Getting down to six now gives us a good potential for a reshuffling of the pack and a further narrowing as the primaries approach.
Republicans need to start getting serious about this process. Jeb Bush has an opportunity to provide leadership in doing so. It may be his last opportunity to remind people of his best qualities, rather than let that embarrassing exchange with Rubio define him into his retirement.
Update: Someone needs to buy Governor Bush a clue.
"[Marco Rubio]'s got the worst attendance record." – @JebBush on @HappeningNow pic.twitter.com/Jaw0skEOHE
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 29, 2015
"This is not personal. I'm not attacking his character…People need to show up to work to vote." – @JebBush on #MarcoRubio @HappeningNow
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 29, 2015
Of course Bush is attacking Rubio’s character. He’s accusing him of taking pay for not working. How is that not a character attack? The desperation is getting very, very strong here. And as Morrissey’s Axiom on Dating and Politics instructs — desperation is not an aphrodisiac.
Update: Via Jeff B at AoSHQDD, it should have read Cleveland Spiders, not St. Louis.