(AP/John Locher)

Jeb! for president never made any sense: Why his precipitous collapse is far from surprising

Bush's campaign is flagging and donors are getting anxious. Could anyone have seen this coming? Yes, yes we could

Sean Illing
September 30, 2015 12:30AM (UTC)

Jeb Bush should not have run for president. He’s a banal, gaffe-prone candidate with a sullied name, seeking to lead a party whose recalcitrant base despises everything he represents. It appears that Jeb’s campaign (read: his donors) are beginning to notice what most us predicted: He’s the wrong candidate at the wrong time. And now that Marco Rubio has eclipsed Bush in recent polls in Florida and New Hampshire, both crucial states for Bush’s campaign, Jeb's path to victory looks increasingly narrow.

According to this report in Politico, Jeb’s big money donors are in near-panic mode after the latest poll results:


For the past week, Jeb Bush’s campaign advisers have been using a new data point to convince nervous donors that he’s still the candidate to beat – Bush’s lead in the political prediction markets. Just one problem: Beginning Sunday night, PredictIt, the biggest of the online sites and the one referenced last week by top Bush advisers and confidants, placed Marco Rubio ahead of Bush at the head of the GOP pack.

It’s true that Rubio has just surpassed Bush in the polls, but the writing has been on the wall for months now. Despite all his organizational and financial advantages, Bush has been emasculated by Donald Trump and dominated by two utterly unqualified outsider candidates, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

So far the Bush team appears not to understand what’s happening, and why they can’t get any traction. Fred Zeidman, one of Bush’s operatives, sums up their cluelessness in one revealing statement to Politico: “There’s a lot of concern that if [emphasis mine] the conservative wing of our party takes control, that no Republican [presidential candidate] has a chance; so a lot of folks are waiting to see what happens with the shutdown.” I emphasized “if” because, as everyone knows, the conservative wing hijacked the party years ago, around the time Obama was elected and the Tea Party movement was born. If Bush’s people are still waiting to see how that whole thing shakes out, they’re hopelessly lost.

Also troubling (if you’re a Jeb fan) is the fact that the campaign remains blind to what its own base demands. “Bush’s operation,” Politico reports, “continues to stick to the game plan by churning out policy papers and sticking to the mechanics of running for president – such as collecting signatures for ballot access.” Is it not obvious that Republican voters aren’t interested in “policy papers” or ideas at this point? Trump and Carson and Fiorina aren’t leading the pack because of their policy proposals; they’re leading because they’re shamelessly unconstrained by the facts. If Bush’s strategy is to sit tight until the reasonable people take charge, he lost before he began.


The truth is that Bush’s campaign never made much sense. Jeb has two selling points: money and a shiny last name. Financially, Jeb does have an advantage, but that can change rather quickly. “Lots of donors,” says Katie Packer Gage, who served as Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, “are holding their money because if the big donor wants anything, they want to be with a winner.” Of course they do, which is why many are likely preparing to join team Rubio, the latest establishment favorite.

As for Bush’s last name, it should surprise no one that the Bush legacy has hurt, not helped, Jeb. George W. Bush was arguably our worst president in the last 50 years; the wreckage he left on Obama’s doorstep testifies to that. No one outside the Bush family thought that baggage wouldn’t, eventually, hamstring Jeb’s campaign. Even if Jeb wasn’t an objectively bad candidate (which he is), he still would have run up against this problem. When you combine Bush’s baggage with the anti-establishment fervor in the GOP right now, his decline was inevitable from the very beginning.

Jeb Bush's Policies Make Complete Sense… If You're 8

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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2016 Elections 2016 Gop Primary Aol_on Conservatives Jeb Bush Republican Party

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