Jeb Bush should drop out of the race.
Such calls have been accumulating over the past couple of weeks, though just a few days ago I scoffed at them. After all, Jeb(!) has over $10 million in the bank, a superPAC with around $100 million, and name recognition. While the advantages hadn’t translated into strong polling, holding around 7 percent nationally given the strong swing towards anti-establishment candidates didn’t seem bad, especially given his financial longevity. He still seemed like the best bet for the Republican establishment and to prove that, all he needed was one good debate performance.
He had the opposite: Rather than shining in the CNBC debate and proving his viability as a candidate, Jeb floundered. He lost in his one spar with Rubio (whom he would need to put away in order to win the nomination) and set Chris Christie up for a homerun with regards to fantasy football. Jeb’s best line of the night involved giving Democrats a “warm kiss.”
So, why does this debate spell the end for Jeb’s campaign?
He lost to Rubio. Rubio and Jeb represent the establishment’s greatest chances of defeating insurgent candidates like Trump, Carson, and Cruz. With both in the race, establishment and moderate support is divided roughly in half, preventing a swirl of support lifting one candidate and providing valuable momentum. Jeb proved he cannot beat Rubio – the mentee triumphed over the mentor. With just over two months until votes are cast, it’s time for the establishment to rally around one candidate. It makes sense to support the candidate who can win in head-to-head spars. Thus, Rubio. Jeb needs to drop out to quit siphoning support and dollars away from Rubio’s campaign.
But what about Jeb’s aforementioned advantages? In turn:
- Yes, Jeb has money, but he’s also burned through a lot and his torrid pace of fundraising is slowing, as exemplified by his dramatic budget cuts. Ten million in the bank is a lot and would support strong campaign infrastructure, Jeb’s proved that substantial monetary investment does not translate into support – he would need a lot more money to boost his image, which brings us to point two.
- Right to Rise, Jeb’s superPAC, has around $100 million and seems ready to assume traditional campaign activities (such as a strong ground game). Yet as seen by the failed candidacies of Scott Walker and Rick Perry show that well-funded superPACs can’t singularly carry a campaign. Jeb’s superPAC has already spent millions in ads to little avail. We don’t know the fiscal affairs of Right to Rise at the moment (are donors still cutting checks to a stagnant campaign?), but it would seem best for the PAC to retire and give its money to Rubio’s superPAC. Most importantly, dropping out would allow prominent bundlers and donors to give to Rubio’s campaign and superPAC (and some donors have already switched allegiances).
- Lastly, Jeb has name recognition, but it’s not helping him. He’s not viewed favorably by the Republican electorate.
Rubio, too, has problems: he posted very weak fundraising numbers in the third quarter (just $6 million) and he doesn’t lead the polls in any state. He also doesn’t have many endorsements, a show of establishment strength (though neither does Jeb, and Jeb’s pace of endorsements has slowed significantly since Labor Day). Yet it would seem likely that the party rallying around Rubio would increase poll numbers – Rubio has a high net favorability, which can be seen as a ceiling on poll numbers – and better his fundraising as donors get off the sideline to support the establishment candidate. Rubio has much to gain whereas Bush has little.
Furthermore, even if Bush were to dropout, the establishment would still have backup candidates in case Rubio imploded – Kasich and Christie, plus the potential of a late-game savior such as Romney, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, or even Paul Ryan.
The time has come for Bush to exit the race; Republicans need to rally around a fresh face, one who can potentially win the general election, one who can excite the voters.
Rubio is the answer.