Jeb's ticking clock: With his campaign still flailing, donors are questioning their investment

Jeb managed to raise $13 million over the summer on the strength of his family network, but that won't last forever

Published October 16, 2015 5:50PM (EDT)

  (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP/Gene J. Puskar)

Jeb Bush raised a little over $13 million dollars between July and September of this year, a number that is being broadly interpreted as a sign of weakness. Jeb was supposed to be a fundraising juggernaut who would clear the field with an overwhelming demonstration of financial might. But the $13 million he raised over three months this summer is only slightly more than the $11.4 million he raised in just the last two weeks of June. So the pace has dropped off a bit, and that probably makes Jeb very sad, and I’m sure it makes his staff very sad, given that they’re all taking pay cuts.

But really, Jeb should be thrilled that he managed to raise $13 million during the summer, given how terribly his campaign did over that stretch of time. His national poll numbers began their precipitous dive in early July, falling from a field-leading 14 percent all the way to slightly less than 8 percent. In New Hampshire, which is generally viewed as a must-win state for Jeb, he’s languishing in fifth place, his support cut in half from its late-spring high point. And yet, despite all these awful poll trajectories and countless gaffes and the fact that he’s demonstrated no ability to improve his image in the eyes of voters, Jeb still managed to squeeze an objectively large sum of money out of his donor base.

Which is to say that being a member of the Bush family is not without its perks. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that a Republican candidate who’d endured a similar implosion and who wasn’t directly related to two former presidents would have had a far more difficult time raising that amount of cash. Bloomberg broke down the donor characteristics for each candidate, and they found that Jeb’s third-quarter haul was made up almost entirely of “large donations.” The candidate who evangelizes “earned success” on the campaign trail is, at this moment, keeping his political career alive through the largess of his family’s donor network.

But there’s a limit to how far nepotism can carry Jeb, given that he’s not really showing any other signs of viability. As the Washington Post notes, his donors are starting to get a wee bit anxious:

Despite a heavy onslaught of television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire by the pro-Bush super PAC, Right to Rise, his standing in public opinion surveys has remained relatively static or has even fallen.

“The needle hasn’t moved an inch — and he may be worse. That’s what’s scaring folks,” said a second top Bush fundraiser.

“I don’t think Jeb’s getting out of the race, but it’s certainly sinking in that he can’t revive himself just from the ads,” this person added. “He can’t buy his way back. The [poll] numbers are beginning to get hard. The candidate has to have a moment out there, and if that doesn’t happen, I just don’t know.”

As a rule, when the people who give you your money start talking about how more money isn’t going to help, you have a pretty serious problem on your hands.

The super PAC spending here is key. Right to Rise was supposed to be Jeb’s indomitable asset – a lavishly funded auxiliary group that would help carry Jeb to the nomination by assuming some of the official campaign’s duties (without coordination, of course, because that would be totally illegal and they wouldn’t want to run afoul of the famously stringent FEC). Well, Right to Rise has been assaulting the ears and eyeballs of Iowa and New Hampshire residents with tens of millions of dollars in pro-Jeb advertising, and it’s had no discernible effect.

So Jeb’s in a tight spot. To raise more money he has to demonstrate that the money is actually doing something positive. Jeb and his people have been talking for a while now about how they have to get Republican voters “excited” for the Jeb! 2016 experience, but nothing they do seems to work. For the moment Jeb can keep limping along on daddy’s and big brother’s good graces, but even by his own donors’ reckoning, he’s running out of time to turn this thing around.

By Simon Maloy

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