With Jeb Bush Flailing, Will Republicans Finally End Habit of Nominating Next in Line?

Is the party ready to trim the Bushes?

Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Republican Party has a tendency to pick candidates who can be considered the next in line for the nomination. Mitt Romney lost the 2008 presidential nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain, but was nominated in 2012. Mr. McCain lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush, but was nominated in 2008. George W. Bush is a Bush. Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole lost the vice presidency in 1976 and the 1980 presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan, but was nominated in 1996. George H.W. Bush was Mr. Reagan’s vice president and was nominated in 1988. Mr. Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976, but was nominated in 1980.

In 2016, Republicans seem to be moving away from that habit. Mr. Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan (now Speaker Ryan), declined to run for the party’s nomination. The candidate who lost the 2012 nomination to Mr. Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, is polling at less than 1 percent.

The only other candidate who could claim the “next-in-line” mantle would be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – because he is a Bush. The Bush family is always next in line for Republicans, just as Kennedy’s are (almost) always electable for Democrats. (The sole exception is the late Ted Kennedy, who failed to launch a successful insurgent campaign against incumbent Jimmy Carter.)

I would have added “Clinton” to the list of always-next-in-line candidates but I just don’t see Chelsea “I-interviewed-a-gecko-now-I-work-for-mommy-and-daddy” Clinton using her name to get elected. It could happen, but the Bush’s and Kennedy’s are far more numerous and electable.

In Iowa, Mr. Bush’s campaign made more than 70,000 phone calls to Republicans in the state but identified just 1,200 supporters and only four volunteers.

But Mr. Bush’s – Jeb’s, that is – campaign is in serious trouble. Once thought to be the frontrunner (until Donald Trump jumped in) he is now in the middle of the pack, behind former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The height of Mr. Bush’s popularity came in mid-July, when Real Clear Politics showed him with 17.8 percent of the Republican primary vote. Just a few days later, Mr. Trump began skyrocketing to the head of the polls (where he has remained to this day) and Mr. Bush has seen his rank fall ever since.

The decline is due to an underwhelming campaign presence. Mr. Bush may be running a professional campaign and doing all the normal things a high-level campaign is supposed to do, but he himself is an underwhelming candidate. He’s been out of office for eight years and he lacks the charisma of his older brother. Maybe if he had a “thing” like skydiving or socks like his father that could make up for it but he doesn’t even have that.

Prior to the third presidential debate, Mr. Bush’s campaign slashed payroll costs by 40 percent, downsized its Miami Headquarters and cut travel and other spending costs. At the debate on Wednesday, he needed a solid performance. What he delivered was lackluster.

After the debate, a 120-page campaign memo was leaked to U.S. News & World Report showing Bush was struggling in early voting states. In Iowa, his campaign made more than 70,000 phone calls to Republicans in the state but identified just 1,200 supporters and only four volunteers.

In early state polls, he’s in the middle of the pack. He polls at just 6 percent in Iowa, behind Mr. Carson, Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz. In New Hampshire he sits at 9 percent behind Mr. Trump, Mr. Carson and Mr. Rubio. And in South Carolina, he polls at 6 percent behind Mr. Trump, Mr. Carson, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz.

A sign read “Jeb Can Fix It,” which appeared more like a declaration about this campaign and less like a slogan for the country.

In his own home state of Florida, Mr. Bush is polling at around 12 percent, still behind Mr. Trump, Mr. Carson and Mr. Rubio.

On Thursday, Mr. Bush appeared to be in damage control mode, telling supporters in New Hampshire that the campaign “is not on life support, we have the most money, we have the greatest organization.” A sign at an event that day read “Jeb Can Fix It,” which appeared more like a declaration about this campaign and less like a slogan for the country.

As for money, Mr. Bush is doing fine. He raised $13.4 million in the third quarter (behind only Mr. Carson’s $20.8 million) and has $10.3 million remaining. That means he has less cash on hand than Mr. Cruz ($13.8 million), Mr. Carson ($11.3 million) and Mr. Rubio ($11 million) but well ahead of the next challenger, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (who has $5.5 million). He is not spending more than he is bringing in.

But if he can’t reverse the downward spiral of his campaign numbers, all the money in the world won’t save him. He might not be on life support, per se, but he is definitely on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, other than the two senators, the candidates who are polling ahead or near him are all political outsiders – Mr. Trump, Mr. Carson and Ms. Fiorina. Even if none of those three end up with the nomination, the candidates closes to Mr. Bush in polling haven’t been in their current political office for very long (in most cases for less time than Mr. Bush has been out of politics) and certainly don’t meet the description of a “next-in-line” candidate.

The two parties have seemingly switched campaign styles — Republicans putting up young, fresh candidates while Democrats dig through the recycling bin.

And yet, this year, Democrats seem to be picking up the notion of nominating the next in line. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in 2008 to then-Sen. Barack Obama, and she looks to be the party’s nominee. Unless Sen. Bernie Sanders edges her out for the nomination, Democrats will be the ones to put up a legacy candidate in the general election, while Republicans nominate the fresh candidate.

It’s another example of Democrats having a GOP 2012 problem, as I wrote previously. The two parties have seemingly switched campaign styles in the past four years, with Republicans putting up young, fresh candidates while Democrats have dug through the recycling bin.

Don’t get me wrong, Democrats are still at a heavy advantage to win the presidency (Mr. Rubio aptly referred to the mainstream media as “the ultimate Super Pac” for Democrats), but they’ll have to do so making the same mistakes Republicans have been making for decades.

Disclosure: Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the publisher of Observer Media.

With Jeb Bush Flailing, Will Republicans Finally End Habit of Nominating Next in Line?