Over the last month, conservative media outlets began writing the Jeb Bush political obituary. But after the third Republican presidential debate Wednesday, it has risen to the status of conventional wisdom in the mainstream media.
Bush entered the Republican presidential field as the presumed frontrunner: a former Florida governor, the son and brother of former presidents and a near unparalleled fundraising machine. He now lingers no better than fourth place in any poll.
And as Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC Thursday morning, “The donors are running for the exit.”
Making a reference to Bush’s weight loss, Matt Drudge wrote on twitter, “Jeb Bush can eat carbs now.”
Jeb Bush can eat carbs now... #GOPDebate— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) October 29, 2015
Politico reported that even among establishment Republicans, Bush is beginning to bleed support.
The establishment Republicans who form the spine of the Bush campaign now are expressing acute buyers’ remorse: They signed up because it was the thing to do, but now they realize they’re stuck on the wrong horse. Out of respect for Presidents Bush 41 and 43, some family retainers refused to discuss what they see as a death in the family. Others were suddenly clinical, after holding their tongues as the campaign meandered. One well-known GOP operative, who has endorsed Bush, said in response to our email asking how Jeb should try to come back: “I think it’s very tough. Hard to articulate a path.”
Some insiders hope he’ll get out of the race before the voting starts in Iowa 95 days from now, and spare himself and his family the humiliation they feel is certainly coming. “He has some tough decisions to make over Thanksgiving,” one family friend said. Others speculate that because of family pride and the huge bankroll he raised for his super PAC, he’s likely to soldier on through the first three contests.
One experienced, expensive GOP strategist prescribed: “Be patient. He has the cash to stay in until he can retool. Let the new frontrunners tear each other apart. Trust his abilities and résumé will give him a path back. Don’t stop fighting.”
Meanwhile, NBC News said that the biggest story of the night wasn’t the strong performances by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz but that the Bush campaign “finds itself on life support.”
Bush has to do something to buy time: For Bush, last night's debate will either be the moment that ended his presidential campaign, or the point when his campaign hit rock bottom (because he can't go any lower, right?). But to buy time, Team Bush has to do SOMETHING to calm the campaign's most ardent supporters — whether it's new campaign staff or Bush admitting to strategic mistakes. The bad news for the campaign was last night. The silver lining: Every president and nominee has faced some near-death experience.