Catastrophe: Bush's Failed $100+ Million Presidential Adventure

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 1:20 PM
Catastrophe: Bush's Failed $100+ Million Presidential Adventure

Gov. Jeb Bush is gone. The man many thought would be able to clear the field with his enormous cash flow and position himself as the right-of-center candidate with the experience to right the ship of state is out the race. After a disappointing fourth place finish in South Carolina, Bush bowed out gracefully on Saturday. Yet, what happened behind the scenes could only be described as a total disaster. Eli Stokols of Politico described a campaign team paralyzed concerning how to push against the Trumpmentum overtaking the GOP primary, which was probably due to the fact that Bush had “yes people” at the helm. Also, Bush turned out to be a very poor campaigner, who was a disaster executing his attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and botched responding to Trump’s positions on immigration. It was simply a horror show–and an expensive one at that. Between $100-150 million was spent on the Bush presidential investment, which turned out to be the Solyndra of political campaigns.

While Rubio has been mocked for his robotic performance in the debate prior to the New Hampshire primary, Team Bush exhibited the same qualities, with their intransigence to change course from the coveted “playbook,” which was how Bush was going to win the nomination. Spoiler alert: Donald Trump wasn’t even factored into the equation:

On page after page kept safe in a binder, the playbook laid out a strategy for a race his advisers were certain would be played on Bush’s terms — an updated, if familiar version of previous Bush family campaigns where cash, organization and a Republican electorate ultimately committed to an electable center-right candidate would prevail.

The playbook, hatched by Sally Bradshaw, Mike Murphy and a handful of other Bush confidants in dozens of meetings during the first half of 2015 and described to POLITICO by some of Bush’s closest and most influential supporters, appealed to the Bush family penchant for shock-and-awe strategy. The campaign would commence with six months of fundraising for the Right to Rise super PAC and enough muscle to push aside Mitt Romney. There would be a massive, broad-based organizational effort to plant roots in March states at a time when other campaigns were mired in Iowa and New Hampshire. The plan outlined Bush’s positive, future-focused message with an emphasis on his decade-old record of accomplishment as Florida governor.

[…]

The plan roundly underestimated threats: Bradshaw, his closest adviser and longtime defender, for example, told at least one campaign aide that Marco Rubio wouldn’t challenge Bush. Besides, Bradshaw and other top advisers believed, it would be next to impossible for someone with so little experience to beat him

[…]

Trump baited Bush into a fight, staking out a position to the far right of the Floridian by calling for an end to automatic citizenship to any baby born in America. He ridiculed Bush’s earlier comment that immigrants who come to the United States illegally do it as an “act of love” for family, and called him unelectable.

Bush fired back, poorly. He went on conservative radio and used the derogatory term “anchor babies” when making the case that he would be a tough enforcer of immigration laws — opening the floodgates of criticism.

The following week, inside a Mexican restaurant in McAllen, Texas, just a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, Bush compounded the problem he was trying to clean up when he explained rather didactically that he was referring to Asians, not Mexicans, whom he argued were more guilty of taking advantage of the country’s birthright citizenship provision.

Inside his Miami headquarters, Bush’s senior staffers were coming to the collective realization that the race was veering out of their control.

Stokols noted that this is where the consensus ended; David Kochel wanted a one-on-one debate on Fox News between Trump and Bush to showcase the explicit differences between the two men on immigration. Bradshaw and campaign manager Danny Diaz were hesitant to climb onboard and the idea was scrapped. When the “low energy” dig at Bush executed by Trump began to stick on the campaign trail, the gears of the Bush machine began to grind to a halt. Why? Again, Trump wasn’t an issue in…”the playbook.”

“You cannot run a political campaign and not have the ability to adapt, to pivot,” one longtime Bush donor who has supported all five of the family’s presidential campaigns. “To sit there and say ‘We have a book’ just shows the immaturity.”

Bradshaw, who remained based in Tallahassee throughout the campaign, not the Miami headquarters, is exceedingly close to Bush. She has run all of his gubernatorial campaigns and served as his chief of staff. She acts as his strategist, his confidante and his muscle, defending him from critics and acting as a wall between Bush and almost everyone else. But some donors worried that she and other Bush loyalists wouldn’t be able to see his flaws as a candidate.

[…]

“He did not put an adult as the chairman of the campaign and a lot of the mistakes flow from that,” said one longtime Bush donor. “Reagan put Bill Casey in that position. 41 put Jim Baker. 43 had Don Evans. You always had someone above the campaign manager who could tell people and the candidate what needed to happen, who could see the big picture. By putting Sally, who loves you, in charge, you don’t get the fair perspective, the right perspective.”

Things got so bad that Team Bush had to hire a public speaking coach when the former Florida governor utterly failed at attacking his fellow candidates. Yet, let’s not forget that Bush, prior to Trump’s entry, had a shot at becoming the nominee. Still, he wasn’t as conservative as the base of the current Republican Party; he was the epitome of an establishment candidate, and he a bit of an historical arc against him.

If Bush had clinched the nomination and won the presidential election, it would have made him the first president since Lincoln (150 years) to have a 14-year gap between his last successful political election and winning the presidency. That doesn’t bode well.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, they labeled him a fragile frontrunner in June of 2015, and straight up declared him toast by October. Harry Enten aptly noted that the party hadn’t rallied around Jeb as quickly as his brother, Dubya; voters really didn’t like him, the other establishment candidate; Ohio Gov. John Kasich, performed better than he did; and folks felt that it was time to close the book on the Bush era of American politics. 

Regarding the playbook, as a wise person once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Trump delivered those punches for over a year, especially on Twitter. Bush was unable to counter effectively. Trump was Ivan Drago and Bush was Apollo Creed (who also happened to be past his prime) and he got killed*. As with many people who run for president, sometimes they’re good people, but they shouldn’t be president.

The New York Times itemized the list of Bush's expenditures, which, of course, included millions of dollars devoted to consultants–and thousands devoted to minutiae, like pizza and valet fees for donors. Close to $100,000 were spent clubbing, racking up dinner tabs, and a few trips to exclusive locations, like Nantucket’s Westmore Club. Yet, the biggest item was $84 million spent on positive advertising, along with an additional $8.3 million on salaries for his massive organization. On the latter, Trump nuked that from orbit.

Bush donors remain in a state of shock, as they should, given that over $100 million was spent to clinch…four delegates. That’s a horrible investment.

*Rocky IV