In retrospect, it all looks so inevitable. Jeb Bush’s campaign failed because he was a “woeful candidate”. [Who killed Jeb Bush’s Campaign? Jeb Did, by John Cassidy, The New Yorker, February 22, 2016] His staff blundered with an “epic misread of a GOP base hostile to any establishment candidate, especially one with his baggage-weighted last name”. [Inside Jeb Bush’s $150 Million Failure, by Eli Stokols, Politico, February 20, 2016]And Jeb was a “fundamentally miscast” man who never really had a chance [Jeb Bush never really had a chance in the 2016 presidential race, by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, February 21, 2016].
That’s what they say now. But the truth is that Jeb Bush was an entirely viable frontrunner. The smart-money prediction a year ago was that a center-right candidate with party backing and deep pockets could lock up the nomination. This is traditionally how it works in the Republican Party. As Politico’s Mike Allen memorably put it a year ago, “barring a major disruption in the force field” the candidate would be Jeb Bush. [Playbook, February 25, 2015]
At the center of Jeb’s appeal: his supposed fundraising prowess. Reporters marveled at a “ruthlessly assembled” juggernaut that “will be impossible for any of the other 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls to emulate and could easily go stride for stride with the legendary Clinton fundraising machine”. [Jeb Bush’s Wall Street Advantage, by Charlie Gasparino, Fox Business, March 25, 2015]
Indeed, Bush scored a huge political triumph before the race even began by muscling Mitt Romney out of the race. Romney’s inability to consolidate the campaign operatives and major donors needed to run another huge campaign was seen not just as a sign of Romney’s weakness, but Bush’s strength. [Romney’s Withdrawal Is a Reflection of Bush’s Strength, by Nate Cohn, New York Times,January 30, 2015] And having chased away the last Republican nominee, Bush’s backers promised a “shock and awe” fundraising campaign that would intimidate any other potential challengers [Inside Jeb’s ‘shock and awe’ launch, by Ben White and Marc Caputo, Politico, February 18, 2015].
Early in the campaign, Jeb Bush had a commanding lead among Republican candidates [Jeb Bush surges to lead GOP pack in new 2016 poll, by Chuck Todd and Mark Murray, MSNBC, June 22, 2015]. And while some analysts expressed doubts that the primary would be a coronation, Bush was expected to be able to win the nomination by consolidating moderate voters, just as John McCain and Mitt Romney were able to do [Jeb Bush launches 2016 presidential bid, by Peter Hamby and Chris Moody, CNN, June 15, 2015].
And this may well have happened–were it not for the arrival of Donald J. Trump. Ted Cruz would have been regarded as unelectable and radical, even by many conservatives. Marco Rubio and Bush would have dueled about who would have been more likely to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. And voter turnout would be low, as the America dreaded the inevitable Bush versus Clinton race.
But that’s not what happened, and the Main Stream Media still doesn’t fully understand why. Lost in the MSM’s focus on Jeb’s awkward personality, his catastrophic campaign strategy, and the baggage of the Bush name are two critical factors:
- The immigration issue.
- The emergence of a candidate who placed it at the center of his campaign.
Bush didn’t fail because he was a terrible candidate. He failed because Donald Trump took him out and shifted the Overton Window.
Trump gleefully attacked Jeb Bush from the start of the campaign, drawing a contrast between the candidates on immigration. Rather than hitting back, Bush simply tried to ignore the attacks, assuming they wouldn’t stick. [Jeb Bush’s doomed campaign, by Ashley Killough, CNN, February 22, 2016]
Indeed, incredible as it now seems, many analysts at the time thought Trump was actually helping Jeb. Trump was expected to somehow “implode” on his own, thus allowing Bush to simply inherit the nomination [Here’s How/Why Jeb Bush Will Win The GOP Nomination, by Andy Ostroy, Huffington Post, November 19, 2015]
When Donald Trump first started rising in the polls, Andrew Prokop of Vox argued Trump was great news for Jeb Bush, because “GOP insiders will break the emergency glass so he’ll be extinguished,” thus protecting Jeb, the “leading alternative” [Donald Trump’s rise is great news—for Jeb Bush, July 14, 2015]. As Prokop now admits, “Yeah… that didn’t hold up so well [I thought the rise of Donald Trump would be great for Jeb Bush. Wow, was I wrong. February 23, 2016].
The truth is that Jeb Bush was, as many now recognize, the “perfect foil,” a prim, proper, Politically Correct scion of the ruling caste that white working class Republicans love to hate. [Donald Trump’s Perfect Foil, by Peter Beinart, Atlantic,February 22, 2016]
And it wasn’t just class hatred. It was also provoked by a substantive policy difference.
As Michael Warren admitted at The Weekly Standard:
The raison d’être of Donald Trump’s campaign is immigration, specifically how the country needs to stop illegal immigration, prevent more of it from happening, and punish those who have taken advantage of the lax security. He has reached and spoken to those voters in the white working class and beyond who see illegal immigrants taking away their economic security and their culture. And he has savaged those elites who have turned blind eyes to the law-breaking while preferring laws that would encourage more immigration.
[Donald Trump Loses His Perfect Foil – Jeb Bush, February 20, 2016]
But it’s not just that Trump is defined by immigration. It’s that immigration is linked to a host of related “National Conservative” issues, including trade, outsourcing, “Political Correctness,” and a sense of national decline. Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” taps into a powerful reservoir of feeling among those Americans who feel betrayed by their own leaders.
It’s for this reason that the MSM seems to be panicking. Thus Vox’s Ezra Klein is making unintentionally hilarious videos essentially warning us Trump will become a dictator and crush the American Left forever. (Here’s hoping.) And Danielle Allen at the Washington Post has a particularly overwrought display comparing Trump to the rise of Hitler and calling for a bipartisan effort to stop Trump in the Republican primary. [The moment of truth: We must stop Trump, February 21, 2016]
Allen also makes the crucial admission–that Leftists are afraid Trump will beat Hillary (“Democrats, your leading candidate is too weak to count on as a firewall. She might be able to pull off a general election victory against Trump, but then again she might not. Too much is uncertain this year.”)
There’s a palpable sense Trump is unleashing a long suppressed nationalism capable of sweeping all before it.
It’s therefore particularly striking that Conservatism Inc. is picking this moment to urge their deluded followers to support anyone other than Trump. And, as I predicted, they seem most eager to support Marco Rubio.
Token Conservative columnist Matt Lewis openly urges a corrupt bargain in which every candidate other than Trump conspires to prevent him from winning delegates, all so they can take the nomination away from him in a brokered convention. [To Stop Trump, Study the Whigs’ 1836 Strategy?, Daily Caller,February 23, 2016]
And in a bizarre piece, parasitic consultant Curt Anderson writes at National Review that every other candidate must drop out of the race so Marco Rubio can, maybe, stop Donald Trump. And if “the Gang of Eight thing sticks in your craw?”
You have to decide—are you a conservative? Or just a grudge-holder? Does it matter if we rebuild America and stop the crazy leftward lurch toward moral relativism?
[Memo to Conservatives—Time Is Short, You Must Act Now, February 23, 2016]
In other words, to Conservatism Inc., immigration isn’t really an important issue compared to fighting “moral relativism” and defending “conservatism.” And all this overwrought rhetoric on the very day it came out that Rubio was snubbing the Beltway Right’s most prized gathering, the Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) . [Marco Rubio Plans to Skip CPAC, by Matthew Boyle,Breitbart, February 23, 2016]
The takeaway from all of this: the Beltway Right has learned nothing from the fall of Jeb Bush.
Bush epitomized a corrupt elite He was openly contemptuous of his own people. An Amnesty/Immigration Surge was his top public policy priority. But rather than being humbled by his fall, the Beltway Right seems bizarrely emboldened. They now openly acknowledge they are willing to sacrifice everything, even victory in November, as long as it means stopping Donald Trump.
They are overplaying their hand. Jeb Bush showed all the money and organization in the world means nothing if there is not a market for what you are selling. His fall was a product of substance, not just style.
Conservatism Inc. seems determined to make the same mistake, taking its constituency for granted rather than trying to serve its interests.
If Trump conquers the GOP in the name of frustrated nationalists and patriotic conservatives, the Beltway Right can’t say they weren’t warned.
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] is a Beltway veteran and a refugee from Conservatism Inc.