The second culprit they’d identified was Ana Navarro. Few people inspired more acrimony among Rubio’s aides these days than the First Lady of the Biltmore, who they regarded as a flighty and spiteful socialite masquerading as a political strategist for TV. They resented how she had allowed reporters to quote her as a “confidante” or “adviser” to Rubio for years, only to bolt to Jeb the second he decided to run for president. They now regularly heard about her dissing Rubio to the important power brokers and politicos who filtered in and out of her boyfriend’s hotel, and at least one of the senator’s advisers was convinced that she was fanning the infidelity rumors. “That woman couldn’t say nice things about her mother,” said the adviser. “She’s just gonna say acerbic things for the sake of saying them.” (Both Herberger and Navarro denied spreading rumors about Rubio.)

Meanwhile, in a series of off-the-record conversations, Jeb’s messengers tried to convince a number of influential figures in political media that they had the goods on Rubio. Among these was MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. A former Republican congressman from Florida who remained tapped into the state’s politics, Scarborough was skeptical whenever somebody tried to convince him that Rubio had an explosive career-ending secret lurking in his past. “Everybody who runs against him says he has girlfriends, or financial problems. They throw a lot of shit at the wall,” Scarborough told me. “It’s the same thing from the Jeb Bush camp. They keep telling me, ‘Oh, we’ve got the thing that’s going to take him down.’ But nobody’s ever produced anything that we all haven’t read in the Tallahassee Democrat.”

To many in Rubio’s orbit, the most maddening part of the unkillable zipper meme was not the thousands of dollars they’d already spent trying to debunk it, or even the fact that Jeb’s people seemed so dead set against a competitive primary that they’d resorted to shameless gossip-mongering: It was the double standard at work. After all, Jeb had faced his own rumors of adultery in his day. In one of the more enduringly bizarre episodes of his governorship, a reporter had confronted him at a bill-signing ceremony about rumors that he was having an affair with a former model who had worked closely with his administration. Jeb had indignantly, and emotionally, denied the “hurtful” gossip, but the incident gave a Vanity Fair writer who profiled him shortly thereafter license to detail the other unsubstantiated Jeb rumors swirling around Tallahassee. And yet no one in the GOP establishment seemed to be wringing their hands over Jeb’s “zipper problem.”