Year of the Outsider
Bush’s resume and campaign strategy could not have been more misaligned with the Republican electorate. In this year of the outsider, fueled by an angry electorate, Jeb Bush, the ultimate legacy candidate, had planned to run a “joyful” campaign touting his government experience.
End of the Dynasty
His Mom was right: “We’ve had enough Bushes.” His name highlighted his establishment credentials. And, from his first interview, he never was able to separate himself from the legacy of brother George W. and the Iraq War. The Republican Party wanted a new outsider leader, and the Party has moved so far right so quickly that both H.W. and G.W. were seen as the modern equivalent of “Rockefeller Republicans.”
The Plan and Trump
The Bush campaign plan and team appeared clueless as to the driving forces of this campaign year and their most serious threats. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for research missed both the anger toward the establishment and the power of Donald Trump’s celebrity status. They felt Mitt Romney was the most dangerous rival. And, although Romney pulled back, the money failed to deter other rivals. Bush launched a campaign as an immigration moderate the day before Trump announced that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.
Even after the first few debates, the over-financed and poorly advised Bush failed to realize the damage Trump was doing to him. As the most visible member of the establishment on the stage, Trump used Bush as his favorite foil. The “low energy” line became the Bush image.
Debates and Polls
The invisible primary was dominated by debates and polls, not the usual money, paid advertising and endorsements. Bush failed in both. The high expectations hurt him as he quickly fell into a second tier in the polling and his debate performances throughout 2015 were average in a year that required superior.
Although Jeb is bright and competitive, whether he would have been a good nominee or an effective president remains unclear. The same factors that derailed his campaign would have handicapped him as a general election candidate. And, the polarization and serious problems the country faces will require far more than an experienced manager if the country is to meet its many challenges – foreign and domestic.