The political news cycle can change quickly. Six weeks ago, Nate Silver highlighted Hillary Clinton’s “poll-defeating feedback loop,” in which the Democratic candidate would get hammered by the press, which weakened her standing, which led to coverage about her stalled support, starting the cycle anew.
Six weeks later, Clinton is suddenly riding high, boosted by a strong debate performance, an 11-hour Benghazi hearing, and improved standing in the polls.
Now it’s Jeb Bush who finds himself stuck in a similar feedback loop. The difference is, the Florida Republican will find it vastly more difficult to put things right.
If the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem, the former governor is not completely hopeless.
[At a New Hampshire event], Bush seemed to acknowledge his shortcomings as a campaigner. “I wish I could talk as well as some of the people on the stage, the big personalities on the stage,” he said. “But I’m a doer.”The campaign is working hard to convince its backers not to lose hope. Bush held a conference call with top donors Thursday afternoon, where he vowed to improve as a candidate, stressed his commitment to early states, especially New Hampshire, and said he was looking forward to being back out on the trail, NBC News reported.
At the same, the Bush campaign is quietly leaking materials that were previously only shown to major donors, including a slide show sketching out the operations plans for the coming months, and some talking points on why Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the wrong choice for the Republican Party.
Among other things, the materials characterize the senator as an accomplishment-free politician with no leadership experience and potential ethical pitfalls in his record. “Those who have looked into the Marco’s background [sic] in the past,” the campaign noted, “have been concerned with what they have found.”
There were no additional details, though this was probably a reference to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which vetted Rubio as a possible 2012 running mate, before rejecting him.
Whether this is a wise warning about a risky and untested rival, a desperate move borne of panic, or a bit of both, is open to debate, but the fact remains that Jeb Bush finds himself at a difficult crossroads.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the former GOP frontrunner is suddenly lacking in friends. All kinds of pundits and observers from the left, right, and center have settled on a rare consensus: Bush is a bad candidate whose campaign is headed towards failure. Jeb’s critics are having a field day, while his allies hold their face in their hands. Most of his remaining defenders either share his last name or are on the campaign payroll.
Because perception is so important in shaping reality – Rubio lied his way through this week’s debate, but the media was impressed with the way in which he delivered those lies, so he’s the big “winner” – Bush faces doubts that are not easily shaken. Worse, he seems to lack the raw political skills necessary to overcome the skepticism and get back on track.
So is it time to pull the plug and walk away? Jeb probably isn’t interested in my advice, but I’d argue against it. There’s obviously no denying that the distance between Bush and the Republican nomination is growing, but he has plenty of money, near-universal name recognition, a capable staff, and at least for now, the backing of much of the GOP establishment.
Why quit now? Not to put too fine a point on this, but Bush has nothing else to do – he has no day job – and this is his only shot at the presidency. Sure, if he stays in and loses badly in each of the early nominating contests, the results will be humiliating, but if Jeb quits before Thanksgiving, the embarrassment will be every bit as severe.
Bush’s odds of success are low, but at least they exist. If he quits, that’s no longer the case.