GOP Contest Getting Real

It’s going to be interesting to see exactly when the constant, cicada-like grinding of Too early too early too early emanating from multiple corners of academia and the punditry with respect to the GOP presidential nominating contest finally begin to fade as we approach the Iowa Caucuses. Presumably it will start to happen as candidates these observers cannot take seriously as a matter of professional principle–Trump, Carson, probably Fiorina–lose some altitude and the real candidates make their moves.

There’s already some disagreement emerging as to who needs to make a move first. As Burgess Everett and Katie Glueck of Politico note in a piece entitled “Ted Cruz’s Big Moment,” the extended appropriations fight in Congress centered on Planned Parenthood funding and conservative allegations of GOP spinelessness is tailor-made for Ted Cruz, whose whole shtick is that while others posture against the godless RINO Establishment he’s right there fighting it in the Senate. If Cruz doesn’t come through December swollen up like a bullfrog and building momentum in Iowa, he’s almost certainly toast.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe reports that Jeb Bush’s donors have grown tired of hearing about his campaign planning on a late rush to the nomination some time next spring, and want to see progress right now.

Jeb’s sure resisting it:

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Bush played down the importance of his standing in polls. “These polls really don’t matter. . . . They don’t filter out the people that aren’t going to vote, it’s just — I know it’s an obsession because it kind of frames the debate for people for that week,” he said.

Seems some of the people bankrolling Jeb just don’t agree:

The warnings, expressed by numerous senior GOP fund­raisers in recent days, come as Bush and an allied super PAC are in the early stages of an aggressive television ad campaign they say will help erase doubts about his viability.

But Bush continues to battle against a steady decline in the polls, sinking to fifth place at just 7 percent in a national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday and similarly languishing in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

One reason Bush probably cannot afford the see-you-later-gator strategy much longer is that a lot of smart money is now moving to Marco Rubio, whose path to the nomination is directly over, under around and through Jebbie. With favorable/unfavorable ratios throughout 2015 that Jeb can only look up at enviously, Rubio is now beginning to move past Bush in the candidate preference assessments as well, viz. the self-same NBC/WSJ poll O’Keefe cites, where Rubio is tied for third with Carly Fioina at 11% (in the last national poll from this source, in July, Bush was at 14% and Rubio at 5%).

As insiders and journalists alike begin to view the Bush/Rubio competition as a single-elimination contest, you have to wonder more each day at what point Jeb’s Super-PAC will stop spending tens of millions of dollars running ads about his fine stewardship of Florida back in the day and begin sending nasty-grams about Rubio being one of those people who can’t balance his checkbook and might profane the South Lawn of the White House with pink flamingos bought via payday loans. I’m sure the old Bush family friend Ralph Reed could help spread that word in South Carolina, too, for free.

Any way you look at it, the Invisible Primary is nearing its peak, and before you know it, its end.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.