Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It Wasn't the Candidate or the Campaign; Jeb Never Had a Chance

In the Iowa post mortems one thread has been that the Jeb campaign has been a historical failure. I disagree with that only in the sense that the blame is being put on Jeb and his political skills. These aren't completely irrelevant, but the biggest factor is that Jeb never had a chance. His and his donors failure is that they didn’t see that he never had a chance.

Before I explain, what I mean by establishment in what follows is that prevailing sense of ‘respectable opinion’ which if it doesn’t persuade at least is taken into account, such that if you see things differently you at least pause to consider that you’ve lost the plot. And that relationship between establishment and conservative is somewhat adversarial with the tension increasing as the conservative viewpoint becomes more ideological.

So why was Jeb doomed? Because he came after the following:

1) His father, Bush I, picks up the mantle of Reagan and promises not to raise taxes. He then raises taxes

2) His brother George, Bush II, is supported fervently for his actions after 9/11, but conservatives aren’t please with the notion of “compassionate conservatism” nor with the explosion of spending that occurs under his watch (zero vetoes!).

3) McCain as nominee in 2008 is widely perceived as the establishment choice. Conservatives aren’t thrilled but they go along with it. They don’t like losing to Obama, but deep down they understand it. Base/conservative wariness with the establishment has increased but hasn’t disappeared.

4) And now we get to the point that finally kills the Jeb campaign. In the 2012 race the perception is that Obama is a colossally bad president. If the Republicans don’t screw it up they’ll win. While the conservatives have doubts about Romney, they eventually give way to the establishment view--after a frantic and failed attempt to find a suitable alternative—on the argument that Romney is the only candidate who can/will beat Obama.

Then the Romney general election barely brings up the subject of Obamacare, which is kind of a big deal for conservatives, and ends up losing. Queue The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That is what Jeb had to overcome, plus the fact that most conservatives weren’t pleased with the royalist suggestions that would come with a third Bush presidency. The surprise isn’t that Jeb failed, it’s that so many pundits didn’t see from the start that he would (and my twitter followers will know that I had Jeb as the John Connally of this race—see 1980—from the start). Jeb was always the longest of long shots in this cycle.

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