I never thought I'd be writing this so early in the process, still three-plus months away from the first votes being cast, but ... Jeb Bush is toast.
And not just toast, but burnt toast. Black-charred toast that has been sitting in the toaster so long it has gotten cold and brittle, so that no amount of butter or jam can render it edible.
I don't say that to be mean. It's simply true. He's at 5 percent in the most recent Iowa poll. He was never expected to do great there, but 5 percent? In supposedly more friendly New Hampshire, after a month of TV advertising, he's at 9 percent. In his home state of Florida he's also at 9 percent. Those are the voters who know him best, and his eight-year tenure as Florida governor was supposed to serve as his national sales model for competent, conservative governance. Yet even among the home folk he's pulling less than half the support of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and is six points behind former protege Marco Rubio.
Bad as they are, those numbers by themselves do not doom his campaign. It's rare, but other candidates have survived numbers that poor by making the necessary adjustments and turning things around. Hoping to pull off a similar miracle, the Bush campaign last week announced layoffs, cutbacks and changes in strategy, and over the weekend Bush donors and longtime family supporters gathered in Houston in preparation for making a fresh start.
The problem is that Jeb has no real room to grow. Maybe I'll be proved wrong about this, but I look at the GOP landscape and ask myself: "Where's he going to get more votes? Where's the untapped reservoir of support that he needs to turn this around?" After poring over polling results and crosstabs in the last few weeks, I can't find even a hint of it.
In Iowa, for example, those wanting Jeb to drop out of the race altogether outnumber those who support him by a four-to-one ratio. And in a new AP national poll released today, 77 percent of Republican primary voters say they prefer a nominee from outside the system; just 22 percent want someone who knows Washington and can get things done in the current system. Jeb has tried mightily to align himself with that 77 percent, but someone with the last name of Bush simply cannot pose as an outsider with any degree of credibility, even at Halloween.
I can't help but feel a small twinge of sympathy, though. When a supposedly front-running candidacy implodes, you can usually blame serious mistakes in strategy, organization or implementation. That hasn't been the case with Bush. His people have run a highly professional, competent campaign, but he has run into two immutable truths beyond his control:
- He cannot change his basic nature. "It took me 62 years to be who I am, and it’s impossible to play like I’m someone who I’m not," as he put it recently. "I’m going to be who I am.” That's fine, but ...
- He also cannot change the angry, resentful nature of the 2016 Republican electorate. It too is pretty much set in stone, and what it demands from its nominee, an earnest, introverted Bush cannot credibly provide.
So ... toast.