Schadenfreude For Jeb Bush

Yesterday I discussed Mike Murphy’s elaborate everything’s-under-control interview with Sasha Issenberg that presented Team Bush’s official take on the Republican presidential nominating contest. In short, Murphy argued with a supreme self-confidence bordering on arrogance that everything we’ve seen up until now is a complete illusion disguising the imminent victory of his candidate on a wave of money, strategic genius, elite support and the certain collapse of every single one of his rivals. It was all close enough to the views of political scientists and many other experts as to represent a small tour de force.

But notwithstanding the fact that we are talking about people who are probably chanting the Apathy Mantra (It just doesn’t matter!) to themselves every time they read the news, today’s developments had to be a tad disturbing to the less fanatical residents of JebWorld. A new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa shows Bush still scratching around the second tier of candidates at 5%, below even the doomed Rand Paul, and with an underwater approval ratio of 43/51. Worse yet, a new Bloomberg Politics/St. Anselm’s poll of New Hampshire shows that a month-long positive ad blitz by Murphy’s Right to Rise Super-PAC has done absolutely nothing to improve Jeb’s horse-race standing or his approval ratios.

Think about how this must feel to Jeb Bush himself. He’s been spending time in Iowa since 1980, when he campaigned there for Poppy. Yet the more Iowans see of him, the less they seem to like him, which is not a recipe for a late surge, is it?

More broadly, consider the arc of Jebbie’s political career. Had he not in his first gubernatorial run unaccountably stumbled against the He-Coon, Lawton Chiles, in the great Republican year of 1994, he would have almost certainly been the dynastic presidential candidate in 2000 with massive Establishment and Conservative Movement backing (indeed, he was universally considered the one True Conservative in the whole clan back then). As governor of Florida, he probably would not have needed a coup d’etat from the U.S. Supreme Court to carry the state and the election. He could have been the one to “keep us safe” after 9/11. As the most serious of the Bush brothers, he quite possibly would not have required Dick Cheney as a caretaker and foreign policy chief, and perhaps would not have rushed into an Iraq War so precipitously. With his experience governing a perennial hurricane target, Jeb almost certainly would not have mishandled Katrina so grievously. But any way you look at it, he’d probably by now be enjoying the warm embrace of a post-presidential career instead of enduring the insults of surly Tea Partiers on the campaign trail and looking up wistfully at the poll standings of people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

The Carson thing has got to be especially galling to Jeb. Here’s a guy who not only has never run for office, but is suspending his campaign to go on a book tour. Yet the same poll that shows a majority of Iowa Republicans disapproving of Jeb Bush gives Carson an almost unimaginable 84/10 ratio.

Maybe Bush has nerves of steel or Murphy has hired a hypnotist to accompany him everywhere and buzz away any consciousness of discouraging words. But if I were him I’d be tempted to blow the whole thing off and go make money until it’s time for assisted living. As it stands, Jeb must wonder if Lawton Chiles is laughing at him from the Great Beyond.

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.