December 21, 2015
As one of the first to have shoveled dirt on the doomed Jeb! candidacy, let me now mention the stirrings of a resurrection.
A Boston Herald New Hampshire poll had him back in double digits (barely). That in and of itself is proof of little. Jeb has spent most of his time, attention and money in the Granite State for weeks.
Even if you take that poll seriously, and I do, the same data (as well as many other sources) places Bush fifth at best in the current New Hampshire standings, behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.
Given that he probably needs a win, or at least a close second to get anyone excited, we probably shouldn’t read too much into this.
But there are now a few signs outside of New Hampshire. Remember, this isn’t binary. There’s a step between Dead Jeb and Contender Jeb. That midpoint is Pain in Marco Rubio’s Ass Jeb.
Not only does Marco need to worry about Christie in New Hampshire, he might also have Jeb alive afterward. This isn’t the same guy Trump branded low energy. Aside from occasional Bush Family Mangled Syntax Disease, Jeb is now a mostly effective communicator.
Like his fellow presidential dynasty competitor Hillary, Jeb sounds better after getting knocked down a bit. While she recovers once her front runner status is in question, he needed to completely bottom out.
Most of the country doesn’t watch the Sunday shows, but they’re the best indicator of how a candidate is sounding and if they have their tone down. If right before or after a debate, the combination is extra instructive.
Jeb sounded like a winner on Face the Nation yesterday. This isn’t the next candidate to go out of business by criticizing The Donald. Yes, today Lindsey Graham joined Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry as official casualties. Yes, John Kasich fell (probably irreparably) behind Christie when he moved his attention to Trump.
The aforementioned candidates didn’t have the tone to pull this off. They sounded very whiny, upset Trump was doing better than them when they had the normal credentials. It reeked of desperation. It also dragged them into a war of words they couldn’t compete in.
This is different. Jeb isn’t under the illusion this is going to cost Trump votes, at least not anytime soon. He’s already taken more shots from Trump than any other candidate. Nothing to lose now.
Most importantly, even if four months late to have saved his top tier status, Jeb sounds appropriately dismissive. That’s the key. For voters leaning toward Trump or Ted Cruz, nothing Bush says is going to help. This isn’t for their ears.
This is for the establishment-friendly voters tempted to rally around Rubio. When Jeb showed he could hang in against Trump during the debate, establishmentarians saw Bush getting better at something he struggled with.
With Christie still having plenty of long-term questions (New Jersey record, no ground organization beyond New Hampshire, etc.), Kasich having failed to connect at all and Rubio struggling to close the sale, Bush is at least capable of becoming a factor again, even if he likely falls well short of the nomination.
Where’s the evidence? Not in Iowa. Jeb sits at 5.2% in the Real Clear Politics average, just slightly up from his low point in November. National polls? Try again. RCP has him at 4.6%, with the last two polls, both taken post-debate at 7% and 3% respectively (PPP, Fox).
South Carolina is looking better. The Augusta Chronicle polled the day after the debate and found Jeb at 10%, 2 points behind Rubio. It’s not a total outlier. Earlier in the month, a Winthrop poll had him at 9%, again trailing Marco by 2.
There were two other surveys taken in between. Fox had Rubio ahead 14/5 and the just released CBS/YouGov poll has him leading 12/7. It’s too early to say the two Floridians are equal in the Palmetto State.
Still, the polls more favorable to Jeb are the ones with more conservative approaches to voting turnout. If the primary has only well above average participation, he’s in striking distance. Given the existing perception Bush is a lost case, Marco shouldn’t be feeling too comfortable.
If he can get semi-close now, what if Jeb exceeds expectations and/or Marco disappoints in Iowa and/or New Hampshire?
You may think this is still a long-shot. It is. Very much so. But this is one of those perception is reality cases. If you’re a donor, getting ready to jump from Jeb to Marco or even Christie, this may give you pause. We know Team Jeb will not hesitate to point these numbers out.
If the RNC had any thoughts of trying to push Jeb out of the way to consolidate the anti-Trump, anti-Ted field, the smaller gap between Bush and Rubio and Jeb still being noticeably ahead of Christie in South Carolina is enough to give pause. Especially when Jeb still has the most resources.
Then there’s the candidate. He wants to fight anyway. If he can’t follow his brother and dad, he wants to have given it his all. Pushing forward under a hail of negative news isn’t easy. These few small buds of promise will provide encouragement for another few weeks.
Florida voters are starting to believe too. Throughout the contest, they’ve acted as an effective proxy for where things are headed. While both candidates are largely popular with Sunshine State Republicans, as in other big states, voters want to support a winner.
Last week, the Florida Times-Union weighed in with a post-debate poll. Rubio 15, Bush 13, the closest for Jeb in any FL poll since September. He does tend to do better in Times-Union surveys than average, so we’ll compare apples-to-apples.
The past four Times-Union polls are as follows:
(Mid-Dec) Rubio +2
(Mid-Nov) Rubio +7
(Early-Sept) Bush +15
(Early-Aug) Bush +19
As you can see, Jeb is still way off his peak. However, he’s also above his floor. Should both candidates still be in the race for the March 15 Florida primary, at most one will survive.
No candidate loses their home state and remains viable. The problem for Rubio is twofold. One, if both candidates are in the race, neither may wind up winning. At the moment Trump (30%) and Cruz (20%) lead both. If only one Floridian is in, different story.
Two, they like Jeb better. Rubio only pulled ahead when Bush cratered nationwide. He runs better against Rubio at home than he does nationwide. When he led it was by more and he now trails by less.
All the more incentive for Jeb to stick around for a bit.
Mind you, Bush has not finished ahead of Rubio in a single poll anywhere in the last 60 days or so. If Marco finishes ahead of Jeb in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bush can probably only play spoiler.
But it’s getting closer again. While Cruz has done a great job marginalizing his direct competition, Rubio has left his establishment opponents in the game.
His campaign has made a concerted effort to avoid peaking early or putting too much on Iowa or New Hampshire. Events forced Jeb to go all in somewhere. Marco may regret not doing the same.