Jeb: Obama-Era Republican

"Time's up, Governor." (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

“Time’s up, Governor.”
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Noah Rothman explains what went wrong for Jeb Bush:

Bush inaugurated this campaign for the White House about as sourly as he could have. The former Florida governor bitterly resented the 2012 primary process that he believed had rendered Mitt Romney unelectable. “I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering,” Bush said at the time, lamenting the insular and parochial nature of that contest. He carried that resentment well into the 2016 race, confirmed by his contention that he intended to “lose the primary to win the general.” The only way in which that would be possible is to do precisely what he did: enter the race early, lock down the party’s donors, foster the impression that his campaign was an undefeatable juggernaut, and hope to scare his most viable competitors out of the contest. Almost all of that went according to plan, but the intimidation factor that Bush had cultivated failed to have the intended effect.

The beginning of the end for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign was probably reached at some point between his first mammoth financial disclosure and his lackluster second disclosure, which has resulted in theatrical budget-cutting exercises like the slashing of salaries and doing without office furniture. The end of the end might be some time off, but Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations reached terminal velocity last night. In a Shakespearean twist, it was his protégé, the young Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered the unkindest cut of all.

There were two major flaws in Bush’s plan.

The first is that he’s just not the Intimidation Candidate. Bill Clinton could be fairly described as a Reagan-Era Democrat — a convert (if perhaps only a convert-of-convenience) to the pro-growth policies which made the ’80s the ’80s. Clinton fiddled at the margins to direct more of the goodies to his cronies, but in some ways actually expanded on Reagan’s growth program. Jeb might then be fairly described as an Obama-Era Republican, having embraced Common Core and showing no real fire to undo even the worst of Obama’s excesses, or any indication that he’d dig the rot out of the vast executive branch. Candidates without fire aren’t intimidating, no matter how many big donors they have — especially given the ease of small-donor internet fundraising.

The second flaw is that Bush seems to have underestimated both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. There might not be any way to get around Trump’s ability to dominate the news media, and if there is a way, Jeb just isn’t the man to find it. When your best strategy is “hunker down with all the money and wait until it’s all over” then you have no means of dealing with a sensation like Trump — like hiding under the house in the storm cellar when a typhoon comes.

Then there’s Rubio.

In 2000, George Bush had South Carolina for a firewall, the place where he could play dirty (and he did play dirty) to smack down John McCain and coast the rest of the way to the nomination. Jeb was likely counting on Texas (March 1) and Florida (March 15) to act as his firewall. W could help in Texas, and Bush’s base is in Florida. Even better, Florida has a closed primary, keeping out independent Trump-minded voters. But Rubio, whatever you think of his policies, is simply a much better campaigner than Bush, and his tone is much more suited to 2016 than Jeb’s is.

Right now, Carson and Trump are neck-in-neck in the Lone Star State at about 22 points each, with Cruz a distant third and Jeb trailing Cruz by 1.5 points at 12.5. Jeb needs to nearly double his numbers to catch up, and that’s a lot of ground to make up for a candidate whose poll arrows are all going the other way. The picture is similar in Florida. Trump and Carson both around 20 points or so, with Bush back in fourth place — this time six points behind Rubio at a lame 9%.

A lot can change between now and primary day, but the man we saw on stage last night, the Obama-era Republican, is not the man to change them.

UPDATE: I changed the headline from “Required Reading” after realizing my rant had gone on too long for a RR header. But that doesn’t make Noah’s piece any less required, because it’s still that good.