Well, if that is what the Bush campaign was counting on, there are going to be some sad Republicans in Florida this week. Before candidates went to closing statements, NPR clocked how much time each candidate managed to snag before the closing statements, and well, things aren't looking good in Bush-land.
Debate clock: Rubio: 8:44 Fiorina: 8:37 Kasich: 8:06 Trump: 7:44 Cruz: 6:52 Christie: 6:30 Huckabee: 5:47 Carson: 5:28 Paul: 5:03 Bush: 4:56
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) October 29, 2015
The Bush campaign is feeling it, too. Politico reports that "Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz got into a heated confrontation with a CNBC producer outside the debate" over Bush's lack of air time. Considering how high the stakes are---and how closely potential funders are watching this debate---it's really no wonder.
But it's not really CNBC's fault. The moderators did a fine job of trying to keep candidates within time limits, but aggressive candidates were able to snap more air time. Bush continued to be lackluster, often seeming bored with having to deal with this primary business at all. A lot of his time was taken up by lamely answering questions about his poor campaign performance and even his fantasy football team, but not so much about anything that would actually wake voters or donors up.
Even his one big moment, clearly practiced, ended up falling flat. Bush went after Rubio on Rubio's inability to show up for Senate votes, which is a reasonable choice, as Rubio is his main competition once all the vanity candidates burn out (and assuming Trump shoots himself in the foot at some point).
Rubio, however, proved to be more spirited in his defense than Bush anticipated, arguing that John McCain, who Bush endorsed, had missed a whole bunch of Senate votes while campaigning as well.
"He wasn't my senator," Bush lamely retorted.
It's tempting to wonder if Bush is just giving up, but the truth is that he did show up, push his talking points, and even venture an attack on his perceived competition. He's just bad at this.
This is something of a surprise, to both Bush's initial backers and to his opposition. He was, after all, the governor of a fairly large state. He even had a reputation as the "smart one" of his family, though the bar was admittedly low. It was easy to assume he knew how to do things like run a competent campaign. But now it seems that Jeb Bush really did just drift into power on the basis of his name and working in a state that leans right in mid-term elections.
On the flip side, Marco Rubio seemed energized, aggressive, and pandered beautifully to conservative hobgoblins like the "liberal media" without ever coming across as a complete nutter like Donald Trump or Ben Carson. If things keep going the way they are, Bush is likely to see much of his base of support in establishment Republicans decamp to Team Rubio.