Jeb Bush entered the Republican primaries as the clear frontrunner. He had name recognition, experience as Governor of a crucial swing state, the ability to appeal to hispanic Americans, and the full weight of the party machinery behind him in terms of fundraising and endorsements.
In late October Bush slipped to 5th in the Republican field. His campaign is set not only to be a failure, but an embarrassment.
As part of a family where your father was President and your brother a two-term President, to fail to get past the Republican primary would hurt Jeb Bush’s legacy. What’s gone wrong?
The Anti-Establishment Movement
Most likely the biggest single reason for Bush’s struggles over the past few months has been the fact that Donald Trump seized control of Republican polls, used these to assume centre stage during debates, and changed the entire language of the primaries.
Trump and Ben Carson have surged on a wave of anti-establishment feeling emanating from grassroots conservatives. These voters consider Washington as fundamentally broken, if not corrupt. Many seek to aggressively strip down the federal government by hacking away at spending in almost any corner.
This has boosted these ‘outsider candidates’, Trump, Carson, and to a lesser extent Carly Fiorina, to prominence. It has been almost impossible for Jeb Bush to step into the centre ground with authority, demonstrate his ability to lead, and set forth a positive message for conservative America. Every time he attempts to do so, Trump has whipped up anger in the base of the party over immigration and governmental incompetence.
Jeb Bush has not coped well with the anti-establishment faction. After all, he is the quintessential establishment candidate, benefiting from support within his party and fundraising.
At the same time, Bush himself holds much of the blame for his flagging campaign. Though he insisted he would be a positive candidate who enjoyed the rigours of the race, this enjoyment has not always been detectable during public appearances.
Donald Trump frequently attacks his rivals as being ‘low energy’, but in the case of Jeb Bush, he may just have a point. Even the most generous of Jeb-supporters would struggle to argue that he energises a crowd during his stump speech, or that he is the most gifted orator and debater.
Despite this, Jeb Bush does know the issues. The problem is that the current Republican forum does not reward his style of communicating policy questions or party strategy.
Added to this, Jeb is undoubtedly far less comfortable in front of a camera or crowd than his brother. While W. may have been mocked for his less than smooth speaking style, he did have the ability to delivery rhetorical punches and charm crowds with his folksy style.
The Immigration Issue
One of the reasons Jeb is being displaced in the polls by the anti-establishment candidates is his portrayal as being soft of immigration.
This is somewhat of an unfair criticism, and is in fact is a reflection of a fundamental fissure within the Republican Party between moderates who accept the demographic changes that are, and will be, taking place in America, and a brigade of backlashers, who consider it their goal to prevent immigration and ‘fight back’
Throughout the early weeks of the primary season Trump managed to galvanise the anti-immigrant grassroots of the party, leaving Jeb fumbling to articulate precisely the reason why even his ‘modest’ immigration reforms are necessary.
The whirlwind of nativism whipped by ‘Trump & co’ has given moderate precious little time or space to explain to their voters why immigration reform is needed, or to be valued for the GOP.
Then there’s the young upstart taking away the spotlight.
Rubio and Bush both offer the Republican Party a chance to steal Florida’s 29 electoral votes in 2016. In the past few elections, the Sunshine State has been one of single most important battleground states, and a homegrown Floridian candidate is a great advantage when facing the Democrats.
Unfortunately, Rubio has accelerated in recent weeks as Bush has faltered. Gaining more recognition from the media and public popularity, Rubio’s youth and enthusiasm has supplanted the steady hands of Bush. Added to which, Rubio may be more able to reach out to hispanic voters and help expand the party beyond its predominantly white demographic.
This was most evident in Rubio’s swift dismissal of Bush’s lame attack against the Senator’s voting record during the debate in Boulder, Colorado. No one watching that moment could fail to see that one candidate was thriving in this environment, while the other was miserably vying to stay in the race.
Bush probably will still see the campaign to its end, bitter or otherwise. But now he is fighting for his life in a crowded field that has yet to respond to his vision for the country and calm the chaos of the Republican primaries.