Why Bush dropped out

An interesting piece notes the reasons why Jeb Bush’s campaign didn’t last in the campaign, “For Jeb Bush’s campaign, August was a cruel month. Donald Trump’s attacks on the former Florida governor as a ­“low-energy” politician were beginning to stick, and the two were bickering over immigration. The issue before the Bush team was what to do about it. Some advisers argued for an aggressive response, even to the point of challenging Trump to some kind of one-on-one confrontation. Others resisted, believing Trump’s candidacy was unsustainable, while some cautioned against getting “into a pigpen with a pig,” as one adviser recalled. Others described it as “trying to wrestle with a stump.” Those summer days crystallized the plight of a campaign that had begun with enormous expectations and extraordinary resources, as the scion of one of America’s dynastic political families sought to follow his father and brother to the presidency”.

The piece goes on to report “At what would become a crucial moment, Bush’s team had no clear strategy for a rival who was beginning to hijack the Republican Party that the Bush family had helped to build, other than to stay the course set months earlier of telling Bush’s story to voters. “There was no consensus,” senior strategist David Kochel said of the discussions about how to combat the threat of Trump’s candidacy. Other campaigns were wrestling with the same problems, but as the front-runner in the polls at the time, Bush would suffer more than the others. On Saturday night, the candidacy that had begun with such promise ended quietly after a disappointingly weak fourth-place finish in South Carolina”.

The report makes the point that “Ever the gracious realist, Bush announced in his concession speech that he would end his campaign as Trump continued to soar as the GOP front-runner. “I have stood my ground, refusing to bend to the political winds,” he said. Whether Jeb Bush ever had a chance to win the Republican nomination in a campaign year that proved so ill fitting for a rusty politician who preferred policy papers to political combat is a question that will be debated long after the 2016 race has ended”.

Interestingly the author adds “Mike Murphy, the chief strategist for Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, explained what had happened this way on Sunday. “Our theory was to dominate the establishment lane into the actual voting primaries,” he said. “That was the strategy, and it did not work. I think it was the right strategy for Jeb. The problem was there was a huge anti-establishment wave. The establishment lane was smaller than we thought it would be. The marketplace was looking for something different, and we’ll find out how that ends when we have a nominee.” The result is one of the most startling failures in the modern history of American politics: the fall of the House of Bush. It is a human story about the struggles of one of the most successful former governors in America in his bid to become president, like his father and brother, set against the backdrop of one of the strangest political cycles the country has seen in years”.

The article mentions that “Beyond underestimating the anger in the electorate, three other problems led to Bush’s downfall. First, the candidate and his team misjudged the degree of Bush fatigue among Republicans. Aides said an internal poll conducted last fall showed discouraging news: Roughly two-thirds of voters had issues with Bush’s family ties. “Bush stuff was holding him back,” said one aide who saw the polling data. “We obviously knew it was an issue, but even still, the gap between it and other issues — I don’t think we thought it would be that big.” Second, Bush and his team miscalculated the role and power of money and traditional television commercials in the 2016 race. During the first six months of 2015, Bush raised more than $100 million, most of it stockpiled in Right to Rise, a strategy that seemed right at the time but came at the cost of not dealing with other pressing needs”.

Importantly the piece notes “the prodigious fundraising of Bush’s broad network scared off no one. As the Bush campaign would learn, every credible candidate today has a few billionaire friends who can enrich a super PAC. In the end, all that money came to symbolize frustration rather than power. Third, Bush ran a campaign that, whether deliberate or not, was rooted in the past, managed by loyalists who admired Bush and enjoyed his confidence but who, like the candidate, found themselves in unfamiliar political terrain. His advisers were convinced from the start that the more voters learned about what Bush had done as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, they would flock to him as their presidential candidate. Bush stubbornly held to that approach — even as evidence mounted that it was out of step with voters”.

The scale of the problems were made clear when the author notes “That evening, Bush touted the team’s record fundraising as guests dined on lobster rolls and hamburgers at a luxury resort tucked among a forest of birch groves and balsam fir. “It was incredibly memorable to be there with several generations,” said Jay Zeidman, a Houston-based investor who helped raise money from young professionals. The next day, the donors got briefings from senior Bush aides including Bradshaw, campaign manager Danny Diaz and finance director Heather Larrison. They laid out how the campaign planned to take on contenders such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Throughout, there was little mention of Donald Trump”.

It adds “Nothing, however, cut as close to the bone as Trump’s claim that Bush was too “low-energy” to serve as president. The accusation was laughable — until it began to stick. Trump’s charge was in fact a proxy for a different and more difficult argument to combat: that Bush was neither strong nor edgy enough for a party seething with anger at the grass roots. “Nobody tapped into it, for all the polling, all the focus groups,” said Theresa Kostrzewa, a North Carolina lobbyist who raised money for the campaign. “The biggest thing they did was miss was just how angry the American electorate was and that Trump would be their Captain Ahab.” Bush’s advisers would contest that claim. They could see the anger, they said. The issue was what to do about it. “Donors, political operatives and big thinkers from around the country urged us to ignore Trump for months,” Bradshaw said. “There was no one in the news media or the operative class at the time who felt Trump would ultimately be a serious contender for the nomination.” At the same time, others feared that engaging Trump was almost beneath Bush and would thrust the candidate into a never-ending game of charge-countercharge. “Jeb should be bigger than this,” another aide recalled thinking”.

Interestingly he notes “Bush’s failure to come to terms with one of the downsides of his family name came to a head over a four-day period in May, when he stumbled over the decision by his brother, former president George W. Bush, to go to war in Iraq. Changing his answer on a daily basis, Bush came across as a flat-footed campaigner clearly uncomfortable articulating his views on the most critical moment of his brother’s presidency. But it also highlighted the ­double-edged nature of being a candidate named Bush. In a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans held an unfavorable view of Bush. He was the only Republican with a negative favorability rating: 44 percent said they had a favorable impression of the former governor while 50 percent rated him negatively. His rankings grew worse as the campaign progressed. A fundamental weakness, supporters said, was the lack of a coherent rationale for Bush’s candidacy and the failure to make inroads with activists on the right. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t clear the name was ever surmountable,” said a Bush donor. “If the name was going to be surmounted, it would have to be because there was a fresh set of ideas.” Bush offered ideas, but in a campaign dominated by Trump, they were ignored or lost to most voters”.

The piece concludes “The final months were difficult for Bush. After a particularly weak performance during a debate in Boulder, Colo., in October in which Rubio appeared to get the better of him, there were suggestions that he might quit the campaign right then. Reporters who made inquiries about the possibility were brushed off. In the middle of it all, Bush spotted a reporter who was a regular on the trail with him. “Hey — I didn’t drop out, did I?” he shouted. “You know, that kind of stuff really gets my juices going. I’m going to win this thing, and when I do — you’re going to give me a big hug.” Through it all, Bush attempted to keep both good humor and determination in the face of the inevitable”.

It ends “The final indignity in a campaign that had suffered through many came three days before Saturday’s primary, when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Rubio rather than a man she described as a friend and mentor. When it ended Saturday night, Bush told saddened supporters: “We put forward details, innovative, conservative plans to address the mounting challenges that we face. Because despite what you might have heard, ideas matter, policy matters.” His final remarks as a presidential candidate were a reflection of the campaign he had constructed from the start, one he had built to his unique specifications, which nonetheless proved to be a mismatch for a political environment that caught him by surprise — and for which he paid a hefty price”.

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