I wanted to use the term “chaos” to describe the state of the Bush campaign today, following the abrupt departure of three key fundraising aides.
But it’s not that bad — yet. Although fundraising has slowed in recent weeks, Jeb is still sitting on a nice stash of cash. And the reasons the fundraisers left have as much to do with personality conflicts as they do with disillusionment with the candidate’s chances.
That doesn’t mean the Bush campaign is humming along smoothly. There are indications that unless fundraising picks back up in the near future, the candidate will be in serious trouble.
There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley, and Debbie Aleksander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign.
None of the three responded to requests for comment. Bush spokesman Tim Miller would only say that “Governor Bush has the widest and deepest fundraising operation of any candidate in the field. Ann Herberger — a longtime aide with more than two decades of experience in state and national politics — will continue to lead the operation in Florida with our team in Miami.”
The departures came at a time of uncertainty for the Bush. While he has had massive success raising money for his Super PAC, he is overseeing an official campaign that has many more staffers but far less money. Earlier this week, the New York Times revealed that it had taken steps to rein in some of its spending and had gone so far as to cut some employee salaries. And POLITICO reported one Bush fundraiser expressed concerns about the slowing pace of the campaign’s fundraising after Bush’s shaky debate performance.
The Bush campaign wasted no time seeking a replacement for the three fundraising consultants and has reached out to Meredith O’Rourke – one of Florida’s top Republican fundraisers who briefly worked for Chris Christie’s campaign in May but left it in July. O’Rourke, who wouldn’t comment, helped Gov. Rick Scott raise about $100 million for his 2014 reelection campaign and also works for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s likely to run for governor in 2018.
One source attributed the departures to personality conflicts in the campaign, some involving Bush’s finance team.
“They were glad to go. This wasn’t a shock to anybody,” said one campaign source. “There were just some personality problems. It happens when you have a big organization like this, a big campaign. Some of the national people are tough to work for.”
Another campaign source, though, said the three fundraising consultants – who worked on contract and were not staffers – were let go because they weren’t raising enough money relative to how much they had been raising during the last financial quarter.
The drop off in fundraising may just be a seasonal lull, so this is no time for the campaign to hit the panic button. But reading between the lines, you can tell they are very worried. With Trump pulling away in the polls and apparently immune to the normal gaffes that would torpedo any other candidate, they are husbanding their resources while hoping for a Trump meltdown.
Trump may indeed lose support over time but, given what we’se seen so far, a meltdown is improbable. So is Jeb whistling by the graveyard in thinking he can get back in the race?
The remaining debates will be extremely important. As popular as Donald Trump is, he is still getting only about a quarter of the total GOP vote. A strong debate performance by Bush or another candidate coupled with a less than stellar debate by Trump might narrow the gap some.
It’s possible to envision several lesser candidates dropping out even before the first of the year, leaving more money and support for the survivors. It’s not much to hang your hat on if you’re Bush. But at this point, it’s just about all he’s got.