2016 Republicans

Poll Watch: Episode 4 (Jeb Stares into The Abyss)

August 31, 2015

I think Jeb’s candidacy is dead.  If not, it’s definitely Last Rites time.  At the moment, he’s in an incalculably bad position and has himself to blame.

We’ll get to the data in a minute.  Two newish polls are out in Iowa.  One, from the highly respected Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Register is the gold standard of Iowa caucus polling.  This has negative indicators for Jeb.

The other, released this morning from Monmouth University, is still plenty reputable.  It contains the proverbial nails in the coffin of the Bush candidacy.

Ok, you may ask, isn’t this overdoing things a bit?  Based on the results of two polls, taken five months ahead of the caucus, with a total of just over 800 respondents, I’m declaring the original presumptive front-runner mortally wounded?

Yep.

Isn’t Scott Walker free falling, losing 2/3 of his support from the Monmouth Iowa poll taken in July, moving from a semi-commanding first to fifth in what’s viewed by many as a must-win state for him?

Yep.

Isn’t Marco Rubio still struggling to get traction, doing no better than Bush in Iowa, and trailing him in New Hampshire and nationally?

Yep.

While Walker suffered through a miserable August, having a weak debate performance, being unable to clearly articulate his position on birthright citizenship, and now talking out loud about a 5,000 mile fence on the Canadian border, he remains popular with GOP voters.

The data says so.  In general, 3 to 4 times as many Republican voters have a favorable opinion of Walker as unfavorable, down only a little from June-July, when he was riding high in the saddle.  Contrary to popular opinion, voters are not stupid, and have some logic to their thoughts.  This is Walker’s first time at this level, so they understand growing pains are inevitable.

He’s still the same guy who fought the unions in Wisconsin, so if he gets his act together, he can still win Iowa and proceed approximately how he originally planned.  The Walker campaign deserves a closer look at some point in the next couple days, but until then, the key point is he’s down, not out.

Rubio has no solid base of support.  He’s at best running 5th-6th in national polls, ahead of his position in Iowa and New Hampshire.  In his home state of Florida, he trails both Bush and Trump (who’s support is equal to the two Floridians combined).

But he’s very popular, even more than Walker with GOP voters, with a higher favorability margin than anyone except Ben Carson and depending on the survey, Carly Fiorina.  Rubio also is normally the most successful Republican in pseudo matchups with Hillary Clinton.

The Monmouth poll indicated most Iowa Republicans (75%) are still strongly considering at least 3 to 4 candidates, in some cases more.  This is likely the case elsewhere as well, a normal condition in a large field where many candidates have solid favorability ratings.

Like Walker, Rubio has time.  Even more time, as Iowa isn’t must-win, and he didn’t have a bad August at all.  It was a quiet month, in terms of exposure, but he didn’t make a bunch of comments that opponents will build attack ads around in 2016.

Furthermore, with Jeb weakened and Walker looking shaky, he’s probably in the best shape of the three candidates most often considered top-tier before Trump blew up the apple cart.  While Walker is trying to out-outsider the never-elected candidates, Rubio is staying in his lane, and avoiding the gaffes that accompany getting off message.

A functional Rubio is bad for Jeb.  Holding aside the prospect of an outsider winning the nomination, Bush was planning to run as the adult in the room, somebody who could hold up in a general election campaign and govern in a way the less experienced Walker and Rubio couldn’t.

This month destroyed that illusion.  As I and others have mentioned before, Trump is a proxy.  First for next fall, as whatever crap The Donald may sling at GOP opponents is nothing compared to what the Democrats and their PACs will say.  When same-party candidates go negative, they’re often accused of using talking points from the other side.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t valid.

Whether you approve or disapprove of Trump’s tactics, every Jeb faux pas is a 2016 Dem attack ad in the making.  If Bush were running as the exciting new candidate, voters would mentally give him some time to improve.  He’s not exciting or new.

If voters passionately believed in his life story, how he overcame a poor, crime-ridden inner-city childhood to become a leading neurosurgeon, while carrying strong Christian beliefs, he could get away with a flub here and there.  That’s not Jeb.

You vote for Jeb because you think he’s more competent and balanced than the others.  He will never instill the same emotional reaction as Ted Cruz, or Carson or Trump.  He will never sound as sure of himself as Carly Fiorina.

If you can’t handle Trump (and at the moment he most certainly can’t), how do you handle Putin?  How do you handle China?  Doesn’t matter if you think Trump is an arrogant, narcissistic blowhard with a strange hair-like substance on the top of his head.

If you like Trump, you think “hey, I’d rather have him in the negotiating room than that weak-ass Jeb.”  If you hate Trump, you think it’s important to find a candidate who can properly stand up to him, to save the GOP and USA from the wreckage of a Trump nomination or presidency.  Either way, Jeb loses.

The election cycle is becoming more heavily outsider-tilted each week.  When people started really talking about this a few weeks ago as a way to explain the appeal of Trump and Bernie Sanders, the numbers did not yet show a much sharper than ever before lean to the outside.

Much has changed in a few weeks.  The numbers have caught and even surpassed what reporters were seeing on the ground.  Bernie now leads Hillary in New Hampshire. The Selzer poll had him only 7 points behind in Iowa.  Once holding a staggeringly large amount of polling support, Clinton is now below 40% in the most recent poll in both states.

Remember, Hillary is still VERY popular with Democrats.  Her falling national numbers over the past several weeks are due to Independents.  Her standing with her own is strong.  Yet many are still choosing Bernie or Joe Biden.  Why?

Democrats are interested in an outsider too. Though he’s consecutively held elected office since Marco Rubio was in elementary school, the iconoclastic Sanders still counts, particularly as he does not belong to the party he is hoping nominates him.

Second, they worry about electability too.  Who knows what might happen with that damn server.  Both sides are interested in outsiders and electability.  You might say the most electable outsider, particularly on the GOP side is at an advantage.

At the moment, Jeb appears the least electable insider.  Not the best position to say the least.  While Monmouth found Iowa GOP voters evenly split between thinking personal characteristics or ideological positions are more important, a huge majority favored people without government experience over insiders.

Jeb can survive his support for Common Core, but he cannot push through losing the verbal battle with Trump as the consummate insider.  Though his record in Florida is strong, it was also a decade or more ago and before the Great Recession.  He cannot lean on his record the way John Kasich can.

For the minority of voters who do prefer someone with experience, Kasich has a post-recession record as governor in a similarly important state.  He also has his congressional record, including work on the balanced budget.  While those victories were a long time ago, Jeb isn’t the candidate to take advantage of the time gap.

One month ago, Bush was a top-tier candidate off to a shaky start.  Trailing Trump in the polls, Jeb still had a significant financial advantage on the rest of the field.  While his negatives were high, he still was viewed favorably by more Republicans than not.

It was easy to see how a good debate performance, followed by a big advertising rollout in key states, some improved campaigning and contrast with the seemingly less-than-serious Trump would put Jeb in strong position by Labor Day.

Instead, he’s in worse shape in every poll in any state, and his negatives are through the roof.  According to Monmouth, Iowa Republicans are almost twice as likely to disapprove of Bush than approve.  As the past several weeks was Jeb’s best opportunity to begin building his personal brand, that’s a catastrophe.

In the Monmouth Iowa poll, the leaders are as follows:

Carson 23

Trump 23

Fiorina 10

Cruz 9

Thats 65% for the Outsider Quartet.  In polling done a few days earlier, Selzer had the group at 54%, still plenty high.

When Monmouth did the same survey in July, the outsiders only totalled 31%, with tweeners like Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul registering a bit more.

You can argue that as the caucus nears, some voters will shift back to more of a mainstream candidate.  This might well happen, even if the current trend is in the opposite direction.

However, that won’t help Jeb.  Trump voters are more locked down than some of the others.  The poll indicates a higher percentage of voters are sure they’ll support him.  His 23% standing is likely closer to a floor than ceiling.  Others like Carson do not yet have their voters locked in.

Carson defectors may well give Huckabee or Rick Santorum another try, as it appears the recent surge in his support is fairly Evangelical-heavy.  Huckabee in particular still has strong favorability ratings, he just isn’t perceived as currently viable.  Cruz is a very possible alternative.

While you could imagine someone abandoning Cruz for Walker, they aren’t voting or caucusing for Bush.  Perhaps he could steal a few Fiorina voters, but it’s hard to see how Jeb is the most likely landing spot.

Basically, it looks like Jeb is going to finish well down in the pack in Iowa.  He’s likely to finish behind multiple candidates who are capable of running well in New Hampshire.  Previous front-runners don’t survive that, especially if the establishment side needs to rally around someone to stop Trump or another outsider.

Absent a dramatic turn of events no later than the next debate on September 16 at the Reagan Library, the best-funded primary campaign in GOP history will follow in the footsteps of John Connally, not George W. Bush.

NOTE: Connally, ex-Texas governor, the other guy who got shot in Dallas while sitting in front of JFK (magic bullet recipient), and protege of Richard Nixon, raised $10 million to contest the 1980 nomination.

At the time that was serious money and Connally, like Reagan (and Trump) an ex-Democrat, was the beneficiary of the largesse of his home-state oil barons.  Expected to contend, he earned a single delegate for his ten million bucks, still the most expensive delegate in American political history, with or without adjusting for inflation.

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4 thoughts on “Poll Watch: Episode 4 (Jeb Stares into The Abyss)

  1. What do you think the term “GOP Establishment” really means. I heard the other day that “the GOP Establishment hates Ted Cruz more than Trump.” Who are these people and why are they called The Establishment? Is it Reince Priebus and his posse? (You know what’s funny about his name? Well, you know what else? He is both an “i” before “e” and an “e” before “i” – what are the odds?)

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    1. I think that term is a constantly moving target. Once upon a time it meant the Eastern Establishment, the Dewey wing of the party that kept Robert A. Taft from getting nominated.

      Those guys don’t exist anymore. Those states don’t even have GOP elected officials in many cases. At this point, would say it consists of:
      1. Elected Officials. Congressmen, Governors, perhaps some mayors, state house speakers, senate leaders, etc.
      2. Party officials–state GOP chairs, big county GOP chairs
      3. Donor class–this includes the Koch brothers–they are not outsiders.
      4. National Review, Weekly Standard, et al,
      That’s the bulk of it. You can also argue that there’s a 5th category that includes Rush, Hannity and other media personalities. He’d probably contest this, but I think Rush is now part of the establishment.
      Others may disagree, but when I theorize that the establishment could settle on a Cruz compromise with true outsiders, it’s with the idea that group 5 is actually more inside than out.

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  2. Thank you. That makes sense.

    Would you also consider political consultants? I get the feeling that there are lots of arms disappearing into the backs of puppets, and those arms are connected to Karl Rove-types and Ed-Rollins-types. I don’t think that we know their names, in many cases, but I get the sense that they are steering candidates down the middle of the “conventional-wisdom path” and that is reason that so many candidates feel generic and wishy-washy. Consultants are why most candidates end up like an ice cream flavor created by committee.

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  3. Yes. I’m working on a piece about Fiorina’s team which I think is a more ideal set-up, but absolutely. It’s a tough balance. If you hire rookie campaign help, donors might not take you seriously, but if you use established presidential-level consultants they may try to put you in someone else’s clothing.

    Candidates often have a choice between the bland middle or a pitch more suited to someone else.

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