Jeb's multi-million dollar sinkhole: Months of pro-Bush ads haven't accomplished much

After nearly $30 million in super PAC TV ads, Jeb's campaign still hasn't bounced back, which should worry donors

Published December 2, 2015 6:25PM (EST)

  (AP/Chris O'Meara)
(AP/Chris O'Meara)

John Ellis Bush is, according to most reports, still running for president. The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Jeb at five percent nationally: slightly higher than the candidates in the Also-Ran nether regions, but well outside the top tier occupied by Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. That five percent is perfectly in line with nearly every other poll released in the last couple of months, which show Jeb struggling to move out of the mid-single digits.

In New Hampshire, the state which Jeb’s presidential hopes are said to be pinned on, things don’t look much better. He’s pulling in something like 7.5 percent – good enough for sixth place. In the last three months of New Hampshire polling, Jeb has broken out of single digits just twice, and has never come close to challenging frontrunner Donald Trump.

That’s obviously not good news for the candidate who was supposed to be the establishment-backed juggernaut of the GOP field. But Jeb’s poor numbers become downright scandalous when you take into account the many millions of dollars that pro-Bush forces have dumped into advertising designed to move the needle in Jeb’s favor.

NBC News broke down the numbers and found that the campaigns and allied groups of three establishment candidates in the GOP race – Jeb, Rubio, and John Kasich – have thus far spent a combined $47.5 million in TV advertising. Jeb’s super PAC, Right to Rise, is single-handedly responsible for over $28 million of that spending. The group has been carpet-bombing the early primary states for months with pro-Jeb ads highlighting all the positive aspects of his life and career in government. And for all that money spent, they don’t really have much to show for it. Jeb’s numbers have not improved at all, while other candidates who have spent the barest fraction of Right to Rise’s TV budget have surpassed him in the polls.

The best spin Jeb’s people can put on this is that the flood of super PAC cash helped stop the bleeding, and that seems to be what they’re feeding reporters:

Bush's most loyal supporters argue the advertising, mostly financed by an outside group known as a super PAC, has paid off by helping stabilize a campaign that was losing ground. The brother and son of former presidents is showcasing new endorsements, and his team continues to raise a steady stream of money.

Even if that’s true, we’re talking about one hell of an expensive tourniquet. And while that may offer some measure of reassurance to the dwindling cadre of Jeb die-hards, I can’t imagine it’s what Jeb’s donor network wants to hear.

Remember that earlier this year, Jeb’s campaign, with Right to Rise at its side, was promoted as this hulking behemoth of a political apparatus that would stretch the bounds of already impossibly elastic campaign finance laws to dominate the 2016 landscape. They were going to raise unheard-of sums of money from the Bush donor network and freeze out potential rivals. Powered by unlimited donations, Right to Rise was going to assume some key campaign duties (without “coordination,” of course, because that would be highly illegal) and power Jeb to the nomination with a positive message that would position him well for the general election.

Jeb’s people opened their wallets and provided Right to Rise with a bloated war chest, and when their candidate began slipping, the super PAC ostensibly rode to the rescue. And after nearly $30 million in TV ads, the best they can say is that they’ve succeeded in “stabilizing” the campaign.

Campaign donors aren’t altruists, and Bush family loyalty can only account for so much. If I were one of the rich folks backing Jeb’s campaign and throwing cash at his super PAC, I’d be wondering what exactly my money is paying for.

By Simon Maloy

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