Monday, October 26, 2015

5 Reasons Jeb Bush Should Stay in the Race

Over the past week, one of the biggest questions in politics wasn't surrounding Donald Trump's Iowa poll numbers or Hillary Clinton's Benghazi hearings, but instead around former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush, who started the Republican primaries as the obvious frontrunner for the nomination, is clearly in panic mode.  He's spent the past few days telling Megyn Kelly that he's not dropping out, then making it clear that he might drop out if what people want is the Trump/Carsons of the world (and that he has "cooler things to do"), and finally has spent the last couple of days with donors, who are probably more there because his father and brother are there to try and ease concerns, rather than to support the other Bush that's actually running.  With the poor poll numbers and terrible press, many have moved the question from if to when on whether or not Jeb Bush should drop out of the race in a similar fashion to Scott Walker earlier this year.  While I thought at the time that Walker's dropping out was probably the right decision, Bush getting out this early in the race, despite his poll numbers and campaign cuts, would be the wrong one for the five following reasons:

1. John McCain

It's not often the Bush family clings to John McCain for hope, but if Jeb Bush truly wants to win the nomination pulling a McCain is clearly his best option.  Around this time in 2008, McCain was trailing badly in the polls and similarly to Bush he was also cutting staff in the face of an overwhelmingly tough field, dominated by a brash New Yorker with unconventional GOP politics.  However, McCain turned things around with a clear focus on New Hampshire, which paid off handsomely and he ended up winning the nomination.  This appears to be the same sort of strategy for Bush, and it's not the worst one he's had.  After all, this is the only early state where he's currently in third place, and it's also the state where his father turned the 1988 primaries around in (plus, the Bush family's constant connections with the Sununu family can only pay off in this regard).  Admittedly McCain had an actual history in the Granite State (he won the state in a major coup in 2000 against Jeb's brother), but if Jeb Bush is trying to find solace and a way to convince the team to hang on, John McCain is the start and end of that sentence.

2. Trump and Carson Will Fall

Watching Donald Trump start to take a hit in Iowa after all of these months is a great deal of hubris considering the branding he's done toward the entire field and calling them "losers," but it does point to a crack in his facade.  The reality is that Donald Trump's schtick doesn't have enough gas to make it to Iowa, or at least it can't stand up to the scrutiny of national media if the media actually thought he would be the nominee.  The same has to be said for Carson, who lacks Trump's braggadocio and celebrity-appeal, but still has his propensity for saying outrageous things that would be a death knell in the general election.  These two men will likely implode in the next few months, perhaps right after Iowa when New Hampshire Republicans (an admittedly more moderate bunch) see the writing on the wall and decide to go with their most electable candidate.  If Bush is spending his time there, he could benefit and become the establishment favorite against Trump, a title that would help with races like Florida and Super Tuesday when Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street types get desperate.

3. Marco Rubio is the Only Real Competition

With Scott Walker out of the race, and Kasich/Christie/Paul non-starters, Jeb Bush has a surprisingly narrow race to what will almost certainly become a duel for the top slots.  Rubio is a very good candidate, one who has a cutthroat team and who will go after the jugular if need be (lest we forget, he basically destroyed Charlie Crist in 2010 and he was also higher up the food chain in the state), but his poll numbers are not that much better than Bush's.  Admittedly Rubio retains advantages that Bush doesn't (namely higher approval ratings/more opportunity to soar), but he's also had quite a window to gain since the last primary and it hasn't really happened.  Bush has more ability to raise money and has more universal name recognition if they need to get an establishment candidate fast, and Rubio doesn't have that leg-up on him quite yet.  Rubio remaining roughly tied with Bush means that Jeb is still in the race.

4. Tea Party Doesn't Vote

Here's the thing-the Tea Party and "new voters" that are attracted to Trump and Carson don't vote.  In 2010, we had perhaps the only true stand of the Tea Party, and it bombed dramatically in major statewide elections (notice how we never had Sens. Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, and Christine O'Donnell).  Voting in caucuses is hard and time-consuming, and New Hampshire will go with the leading establishment candidate.  The reality is that a lot of lay voters won't turn out, and so Carson, Trump, and perhaps even Cruz will be in trouble if they can't get a great GOTV system.  Jeb Bush will be able to afford a great GOTV system, and while his brother's path to election isn't possible anymore, let's not forget that President Bush had far fewer major contenders to split the vote amongst.  Jeb Bush, who has so far lost dramatically as a result of the myriad candidates running, could finally gain from such a field if he only has to hit 20% to take a victory.

5. This is His Only Shot

No one saw that Joe Biden speech and had as much inner-angst as Jeb Bush.  The son of a president and the brother of another, he knows better than anyone the amount of history and dreams-realized that comes with the position, and the incredible reward of achieving such a goal.  Bush has wanted to be president just as long as Hillary Clinton, and almost certainly longer than anyone else in this race.  At 62 and considering his fall from grace this primary it seems impossible to believe there will be a Bush 2020 race, and despite his protestations that he has "cool things to do" this is a man who has spent his entire professional career trying to reach the White House.  Giving up on that, particularly with so many unknowns left, would be a fool's errand.

These points aren't meant to negate the fact that Jeb Bush is in deep, deep trouble.  Wednesday's debate he needs to not just have an okay performance like the past few rounds, but a great performance.  He needs to find a way to score some points on Trump/Carson while clearly being better than Rubio and holding off Carly Fiorina, who will want a rebound in her numbers and has done better than Jeb in previous outings-that's a tall task for any politician, much less one who has failed to do so twice in the past year.  He also needs to find a way to gain on Trump in New Hampshire, and more-than-likely will need to find roles for his father and brother on the campaign trail and utilize them in a way he didn't really want to do so before (but now he really has no choice but to cash in a bit on their GOP legacy as it's his best trump card).  However, to put him in the same place as Scott Walker would be foolish, and he would be left with a very strong "what if?" if he didn't stay in for a while longer.

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