Jeb Bush is being treated as though he is the presumptive frontrunner for the GOP Presidential nomination, a semi-official title that all GOP nominees take on about two years out from the election. In fact, it looks as though it will be nearly impossible for him to win. Here’s why.
This is what it takes to win the Republican nomination, ranked in order of importance:
Republicans have a significantly thinner presence on the ground than Democrats. That leaves Republican candidates woefully stretched as they search for bodies to help man the primary process. Ask Rick Santorum how difficult it is to find a local nominee who can qualify to serve as your delegate in every district of Illinois. Win all the primaries you want. They don’t matter unless you can get delegates sent to the convention.
Every state has its own arcane rules for assigning delegates. How do make sure your voters know polling places, dates, and procedures that vary all over the country? How do you make sure they show up and understand the procedures that determine a caucus outcome?
Winning means mastering those rules nationally. Mastering those rules requires more than lawyers. You need an organized presence on the ground – everywhere. That’s probably the single largest reason that Republicans always nominate the guy who finished second in the previous primary – he’s the guy who has built the most capable organization.
No one will go into the 2016 with a powerful organizational advantage and no one has enough money to buy all the ground organization needed for a national campaign. Having a committed following, even if it’s a motley bunch, makes a big impact. That’s why Ron Paul outperformed in 2012. Bush cannot draw an enthusiastic grassroots following. He will have whatever organizational support he can purchase which will leave him desperately short. That brings us to the second most important resource in the campaign.
It costs a lot to run a successful national nominating campaign. Romney spent about $75m to win the nomination in 2012. Romney spent a lot more in ’08 to lose.
A particularly weak field in ’12 combined with a mature organization made for a cheaper campaign. Also, an assumptive front-runner benefits from a battery of dark money contributions by supporters outside the official campaign structure. Not all of that spending is even counted.
Bush will certainly raise more money than the Wacko Birds, but it remains to be see whether he’ll out raise the other Gray Round contenders. With no existing organization and no presumptive frontrunner, the cost of buying this election outright would be stellar. Fundraising advantages will not be enough to sew this up. Without a strong organization in place and with the price of victory far too high to be simply bought with a check, a fundraising edge cannot save him from his worst weakness – his absence of grassroots support.
Since the Bush I campaign in 1992, the gap between minimally competent candidates and candidates that the base will support has been growing. In ’16 it promises to open into a yawning chasm.
We have always assumed that a candidate with sufficient money and organization can take the votes for granted. Historically, the nominating race is generally over by the third contest in South Carolina, leaving too little time for a dark horse candidate to build the support and recognition needed to establish himself. The outcome of the 2012 race broke that assumption.
Unlike ’08 & ’12, no one enters the ’16 race with a decisive combination of money and organization. For the first time in decades the preferences of the party base actually matter in a way likely to determine the outcome.
Jeb Bush has zero support among the Republican base. In fact, with his comments and legislative achievements on subjects like immigration and education, he has put himself more painfully at odds with the base than Romney did. This bit of bad news for the Bush & Romney campaigns becomes truly serious when considered in light of the final criteria.
The last bolthole of the establishment candidate in Republican primaries is the assurance that the Wacko Birds will self-destruct. Romney trailed a litany of weirdoes in ’12 without every really facing a threat. Each one choked on their words and actions in steady, drum-beat succession. Dr. Ben Carson’s goofy campaign is already melting and the race hasn’t even warmed up.
It is not easy to operate a national political campaign. No other race compares. If you want to know what the demands of a Presidential campaign do to a person of moderate intellect who is otherwise minimally qualified to be a Congressman, or Senator or Governor, go ask Sarah Palin or Rick Perry.
Neither McCain nor Romney faced any minimally competent competition. Mike Huckabee’s Hee Haw act had broad base appeal, but he was never going to master the basic administrative demands of a national campaign.
Jeb Bush is facing a very different field than his brother confronted in 2000 or that Romney faced the last time around. The Wacko Bird Caucus is stronger than it has ever been. Yes, this field will include a sizable collection of Fox News contributors and talk radio jerks, but they are not the core.
Ted Cruz is dangerous and extreme, but he is no Michele Bachmann. Figures like Cruz, Paul and Walker may be ideologically batty but they are absolutely competent operators.
This year’s clown car primary is likely to produce an ideologically bizarre figure otherwise fully capable of meeting the administrative and organizational demands of a national campaign. That’s a deadly combination we’ve not seen since Goldwater. Figures like Cruz, Paul and Walker are unlikely to disqualify themselves in a way that would matter to Republican primary voters. They may be crazy, but they are not crazy enough to hand Bush the nomination.
When these factors are weighed out, the only Gray Round figure with a shadow of a chance is actually Mitt Romney, and only because he has some administrative experience with a national campaign and a skeleton of an organization remaining in place. And yes, unless everyone else implodes he can’t win.
The person who comes out of this analysis with the best odds is Ted Cruz. He’s crazy enough to line up with every passionately irrational priority of the current GOP base. He’s as well known among Republican primary voters as any other candidate. As ideologically batty as he is, he is a ruthlessly savvy operator who is unlikely to make stupid mistakes. No other wacko bird can stack up the same dark list of qualifications.
Jeb Bush will probably lose because he’s using a well-worn playbook whose relevance has expired. Could he adapt? Yes, but probably the only way a sane, rational Republican candidate can win the nomination in 2016 is to use the 2000 playbook – the other one. McCain’s 2000 campaign would be a blockbuster today.
The atmosphere is absolutely ripe for a Republican candidate willing to unapologetically embrace the four inescapable realities that the base insists on denying. By doing so, a candidate could expand the Republican primary pool in ways that would not only change the outcome, but potentially challenge the assumptions behind the Blue Wall.
Jeb Bush is not that guy. He’s going into this race using the wrong 2000 playbook. We’ll all have to wait for a Republican figure that can finally change the map.