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GOPocalypse, Part 3: The Rightful Heir

This is the third article in a five-part series on the 2016 GOP nomination.

Jeb Bush is the Republican official who, in the end, had the best chance to stop Donald Trump from being the nominee.

It was very clear early on that the mood of the Republican base was anti-establishment. This was not news; Ben Smith identified this way back in 2014:

The notion that Jeb Bush is going to be the Republican presidential nominee is a fantasy nourished by the people who used to run the Republican Party. Bush has been out of a game that changed radically during the 12 years(!) since he last ran for office. He missed the transformation of his brother from Republican savior to squish; the rise of the tea party; the molding of his peer Mitt Romney into a movement conservative; and the ascendancy of a new generation of politicians — Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, among them — who have been fully shaped by and trained in that new dynamic. Those men occasionally, carefully, respectfully break with the movement. Scorning today’s Republican Party is, by contrast, the core of Jeb’s political identity.

One potential pivot point takes us back to 2014. A measured, dispassionate evaluation of the electoral context could have encouraged Jeb to sit this one out. It could have been clear that the man and the moment simply didn’t match. Back in the halcyon days of 2015, it was not yet apparent that Hillary Clinton would be such an unpopular nominee; her favorability ratings were decent, and her husband’s intervention in the 2012 campaign may well have been decisive in Obama’s favor. Meanwhile, Jeb’s older brother had presided over a widely-loathed presidency. Ceteris paribus, a Clinton/Bush race was implicitly a contest between the 1990s and the 2000s, which was a surrender of any structural advantage the GOP would have had by attempting to “turn the page” and capitalize on people’s desire for a “change.”

Instead, Jeb charged on, focusing on a “shock and awe” strategy of fundraising. He ran a sort of pseudo-campaign for months where he hadn’t fully entered the race while aggressively raking in money. By April 2015, Jeb was touting an enormous fundraising haul. By July, it was clear what that meant:

The Republican front-runner’s Right to Rise super PAC, which will take on an unprecedented role in tandem with his presidential campaign, announced on Thursday that it has banked $103 million in the past six months, exceeding its own ambitious goal of $100 million.

The group has $98 million in cash and is unlikely to truly begin spending its massive war chest until the end of the year, according to multiple sources.

Jeb Bush raised over $100 million.1 This had two effects. One was that it represented a golden opportunity to define the candidate and the candidate’s opponents. The other was that it crowded out other candidates, many of whom would have used the same fundraisers to build their own profiles. (This harmed Rubio most, who would have relied on many of the same Florida donors.)

What became clear, though, was that the normal course of action was not going to work in 2015. Jeb Bush’s favorable ratings and poll standing plummeted as voters got to know him better. On July 9, 2015, when Jeb announced Right to Rise’s haul, he was at 16.3 percent in the polling. By the end of October of 2015, Right to Rise had spent $46 million. The result? Jeb had dropped to 6.6 percent in the polling. More ominous were his favorability ratings. According to Monmouth University polling, Jeb had a 50-30 favorable/unfavorable split as of July. By October, he had dropped to 37-44. All that spending had done nothing for Jeb.

So Right to Rise went after other candidates. According to ProPublica, by February 2016, Right to Rise had spent almost $35 million against Rubio. They had spent over $20 million against Kasich. They had spent almost $15 million against Christie. And they had spent less than $5 million against Trump, and less than $50,000 exclusively against Trump; Mike Murphy, the head of Right to Rise, famously noted back in August 2015 that Trump was “other people’s problem.” Any hope for a establishment alternative got carpet-bombed.

Conservatives have taken to blaming Murphy for this. But this is unfair, as commentator Liam Donovan notes. The SuperPACs cannot be controlled by the candidate, of course, except in one way: the candidate can quit. Jeb could have dropped out in September and October, when it was clear that he was simply not connecting. The only way to stop the carnage was to quit. Instead, his campaign shouted, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!” 

Bush, then, could have read the writing on the wall, dropped out in October, and offered his support to Marco Rubio, his one-time protege and ideological fellow-traveler. Bush could have been a senior advisor to Rubio, essentially using a well-timed endorsement and his rolodex to extract any policy commitment he wanted.2 More importantly, he could have stopped the barrage of ads from Right to Rise that harmed Rubio’s favorable ratings, and perhaps kept him from squeaking out a close second place finish in Iowa.

Jeb didn’t.

Instead, Bush soldiered on, holding out all the way until South Carolina. His best showing was a paltry 11 percent in New Hampshire.

The story of Jeb Bush in 2015 and 2016 is tragic in many ways: he was probably the most qualified man in the field to be president, and he attracted some very capable and influential allies in the Republican Party en route to building a stellar campaign operation. In the end, Jeb ended up preventing a true challenger from emerging to stop Trump. It’s obvious that this would have been difficult to see in the moment, but the party–and the country–would have been better off if he had.3

Image by Gage Skidmore Notes:

  1. Counterintuitively, I contend that Jeb’s enormous early fundraising haul hurt him, by becoming a sore spot among the more populist Republican base. “Oh, Wall Street loves Jeb Bush. Screw those guys.” Really, if you want to blame someone, blame Bush’s megadonors, who should have known better. It would have been easier to quit in October with $2 million in the bank than with $50 million. []
  2. We know, for example, that Jeb cares deeply about education. He could’ve gotten a promise to be Rubio’s “education czar.” []
  3. An amusing thought experiment: everyone would have resented a Bush/Clinton race because of the dynastic element and because we wouldn’t have known about the alternative. Imagine the Takes and thinkpieces! I would have written one. Those worries seem positively quaint today. []

Staff Writer
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Dan Scotto lives and works in Oregon. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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74 thoughts on “GOPocalypse, Part 3: The Rightful Heir

  1. Bush didn’t realize he was losing. He had to be told this multiple times.
    He may very well have been qualified, but he was a horrible campaigner (mostly because he expected the whole thing to be handed to him on a silver platter).

    GW got to be president because a significant portion of people in South Carolina thought they were voting for his father.

    Polling in the field for JEB! showed that most people didn’t realize he was related to either his father or his brother.

    Barbara Bush’s name got JEB! his warchest (they don’t call her the Mafia Don for nothing. And that’s a Bush nickname, not something someone else slapped on her).

    JEB! didn’t hire competent folks, barring the people there to simply troll him (guess who I’m getting this info from?). The same people who worked for JEB! sent Rubio’s campaign into the ground too.

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  2. IMnotHO

    The Establishment coalesced around JEB! so fast and with so much money because their doomsday scenario was not Trump. It was a Establishment/Neocom thirds of the party infighting and bloodying each other on a long campaign while Ted Cruz sailed towards the nomination on the back of the unified Populist/Socons thirds of the party (*).

    Why JEB! Instead of Rubio, Walker, Kasich, Perry, Christie, Paul? Probably a combination of the pressure of the Bush I and II party grandees, name recognition (Kasich), and the perception that the others were unpopular with the base (Christie), would be unpopular in the general (Walker), were unreliable (Paul), or were generally weak candidates (Perry). Rubio was probably deemed somewhere between unpopular and weak.

    Trump was dismissed as part of the same group as other vanity candidates: Carson, Fiorina, Santorum, Huckabee. The race was perceived to be Cruz versus the Establishment. A single Cruz and five or six Establishment candidacies would mean a Cruz landslide.

    There could be only one. Fast.

    (*) They were seeing Cruz doing a reverse repeat of 2012 when the -almost sole- Establishment candidate Romney was able to outlast the succession of NotRomneys and finally clinch the deal with only 52% of the vote.

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    • Of course, besides Trump, there is something else that the Establishment had not factored in

      JEB! really didn’t want to run. He had shown no interest in politics since he left the Governor’s mansion in 2006.

      So Dan has a point. He should have bowed out before even starting, and let the Establishment pick another horse to back (I doubt they would have picked Rubio though, but I’m a Rubioscepti -perhaps Kasich)

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  3. Of all the candidates who held back against Trump, I have to say I understood JEB!’s reluctance the least. He also seemed to have the resources necessary to do the kind of negative campaigning and opposition research that could have derailed the #TrumpTrain early on. Now that they feel they have no other choice, right-wing Evangelicals are making excuses for (or just ignoring) Trump, but I think things would have played out very differently if they’d seen this tide of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Trump last October.

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    • I think part of it was if Bush treated Trump like a serious candidate then it would legitimize him. So the goal was to wait it out and not legitimize him. By the time he realized it was time to take Trump seriously, it was too late.

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      • Could be. Still, I wonder if there was some disconnect there, because doing oppo that shows what a sleaze your opponent is doesn’t usually constitute “legitimizing” them. Nobody took the Herman Cain sexual harassment stuff that way, certainly.

        I wonder if that was the real problem: a lot of people thought the idea of Trump as nominee was so obviously self-refuting that they didn’t actually bother to put in the work to refute it. Sure, they didn’t want to alienate the core Trump supporters, but the whole point of painting him as a con man and compulsive groper is that they wouldn’t have had to get into a mudslinging contest over his political message and who was being the most “politically incorrect”.

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        • After the Access Hollywood tape came out, some former Bush campaign oppo guys were tweeting that they had collected all this stuff and more, but that there was no one interested in it. I don’t know if they meant no one in their campaign, no one in their media contacts or that none of the voters cared about the stuff that dropped (like illegal immigrants building Trump Tower)..

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            • The key to publishing oppo is that it doesn’t come from you directly. You send it to folks in the media (Fox News, WSJ, NYTimes, etc.). Then when they publish it, you point it out. While Fox may have been reticent in broadcasting it, I can’t imagine the Bush family doesn’t have solid hooks in the WSJ and NYT newsrooms to have them publish it.

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              • The problem with primary opposition dumps with Trump was twofold.

                First, most candidates didn’t take him seriously until late in the game, and didn’t have time to really dig.

                Secondly, a lot of the effective oppo research on Trump was actually a selling point to his supporters, and to a lesser degree the GOP base as a whole.

                It wouldn’t damage Trump with his hard core of supporters (which was between 20 and 30%) but would mean you’d have a really hard time winning them over to you if he dropped out.

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                • It’s important to keep in mind, when discussing the Trump candidacy, the extent to which everyone expected him to quit early on; either with a “lol j/k” or with a “screw you guys i’m going home”.

                  Most Republicans, when presented with “you said ‘blood coming out of her wherever'”, would have slunk away with their tails between their legs. What we get with Trump is what it looks like when someone is actually offensive, as opposed to trendyleft-meme offensive.

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                  • We also got pretty strong evidence that what the trendy left has been saying about “political incorrectness” is essentially accurate: that it’s cover for old-fashioned bigotry and misogyny. After all, following Trump’s failure to slink away, the GOP nominated him, and the guy that they selected to slay the demon of political correctness had decided that one of his first priorities is to make it easier to sue newspapers for saying mean things about rich people.

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                  • Here’s another interesting data point:

                    CBS poll: If Florida Republicans could re-do the primary today they’d still take Trump over Rubio, 35% to 25%

                    ~ https://twitter.com/sahilkapur/status/790207245657059330

                    Even now there is still no buyer’s remorse. Most Republicans are looking at Trump going down in flames and thinking “yup, that’s the outcome I always wanted”. If the goal of the primary process is to identify an electable candidate then this should terrify the GOP.

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                    • If 35% of Florida republicans would pick Trump, doesn’t that mean that 65% wouldn’t? I don’t see how you can justifiably use the opinions of 1/3 of the republicans in a single state as a basis for making sweeping generalizations about “most republicans”.

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                      • Trump still wins in the time machine primary. That’s the point. It doesn’t matter how many people vote for someone else if he is the most preferred candidate by a good margin.

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                        • I’ll quote your exact conclusion: “Most Republicans are looking at Trump going down in flames and thinking “yup, that’s the outcome I always wanted””. Your evidence is a poll from a single state showing that most Republicans even just in that one state aren’t thinking anything of the sort.

                          This obviously doesn’t add up — which, if we changed the labels so the subject of the judgment wasn’t your out-group, you’d see in a heartbeat.

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                            • Fair enough. It’s certainly depressing to see how many people continue to support Trump, but some of the people most depressed about it are other Republicans — it doesn’t feel fair to paint the whole party with the same brush.

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                              • “it doesn’t feel fair to paint the whole party with the same brush.”

                                But, as usual, what’s fair is of less importance than what’s satisfying. Truthiness beats truth.

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                                • Yeah!

                                  How dare anyone suggest a party should bear something as unjust as responsibility for its presidential candidate. Trump was just somehow afflicted on the GOP, where he is roundly rejected by, well, not very many of ’em.

                                  Dirty liberals and their desire to tar a party with its own presidential candidate. For shame, Democrats. FOR SHAME!

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                              • , based on your experience, what % of Republicans think Trump’s views are bad for the party? On the one hand, you’re right that 65% of the party voted for someone else. On the other hand, a *substantial majority* of the party voted for Trump or people who subsequently endorsed Trump (both in real life and in the time machine primary). A *substantial majority* of the party saw the Access Hollywood video and did not think that Trump should be abandoned as a candidate. So where does that leave us?

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                                • Well, I’m neither a Republican nor a pollster so not in a good position to answer that. The Republicans that I semi-regularly read (mostly reformocons like Douthat/Salam/Ponnuru but also movement conservatives like Patterico) are unanimously against him. Patterico declared himself done with the party after the leadership chose Trump over Cruz, and since then has been pointing out all the ways Trump has dragged the party into the ditch and saying “happy now?” But obviously there are plenty of Republicans who variously support him, accept him as a reasonable option, or think that whatever he is is still better than a President Clinton.

                                  I will say that given all the well-publicized defections and the obvious unhappiness of many republican leaders and writers with the situation, along with the fact that Trump was obviously the beneficiary of some lucky breaks and poor decisions to get where he is, it’s a little jarring to see that all his sins being treated as representative of Republicans as a whole. He’s certainly their problem now though.

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                      • Because 35% was Trump’s hardcore base among the GOP in the beginning. It hasn’t shrunk. Nothing has caused it to shrink. They either don’t care or actively approve of everything that’s come out of his mouth, including the Access Hollywood stuff.

                        Trump won because he had a solid third of the GOP vote locked up (the racists, xenophobes, and misogynists — and honestly, if you’d asked me last year, I’d have said they’d be 10%, tops, of the GOP base not a third).

                        The other two thirds represents two groups (evangelicals and business/establishment, with a tiny fraction of “other” like libertarians) and distrust each other extensively. (The evangelicals have been supporting the business/establishment wing for decades, and abortion is still legal, gays are now marrying, etc — the business wing gets their tax cuts and deregulation, but the evangelicals get told ‘soon’).

                        Both of those groups split between multiple candidates. Trump, with a hard-core 1/3rd that didn’t waver, had a huge advantage.

                        Worse yet, no one had really openly courted that group (it was all dogwhistles and occasional red meat thrown by everyone), so I don’t think anyone realized how big they were — that group normally split up along secondary voting criteria, lacking a full-throated authoritarian with a penchant for giant walls and grabbing p*ssies to get behind.

                        So what that poll indicates is the GOP continues to have a REAL problem. A full third of their base is, bluntly, offensive to the rest of the US (and a good chunk of the rest of the base) but isn’t going to go away. They can’t win elections WITH these guys and can’t win them WITHOUT these guys, and these guys show no signs of quietly shutting up and going back to voting along in the primary along some other criteria.

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  4. I think a detailed comparison of George W.’s preparations for running for President with Jeb’s would be interesting. My impression is that George W had not simply raised money, but obtained support across all of the major players/ interests in the party, including Evangelicals who had distrusted his father. Also, George W. inherited loyalty from those that served his father, so at the very least they didn’t oppose the son. His path looks more like Hillary Clinton’s with McCain serving the Sanders role for the doubters. There was no significant competition, and the original Bush loyalists from 88-92 are no longer factors.

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    • Another big issue is that Bush II was running during a very different time than Jeb!. Bush II ran after the general prosperity of the 1990s when the GOP was starting its ultra-partisan march and before the more diverse millennials became active in politics.

      The Democratic Party was also more centerist then. This was before LBGT-rights and gay marriage were major issues. Before anyone realistically dreamed of marijuana legalization and when there were still a few instances of that dying breed, the liberal Republican.

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  5. Of all the interesting things to come out of this campaign, one of the more interesting, if less flashy, is the limits to the influence of money. Most of us thought that Citizens United would throw elections to rich people: the Koch brothers or George Soros, depending on your personal nightmare scenario. It seems pretty clear to me that rich people thought this, too. Yet, without suggesting that big money isn’t still a factor, here we are, with Nominee Trump (who, however rich he may or may not be, didn’t spend his own money on this). This is, in a perverse sort of way, encouraging. I just wish I could generalize it to state and local elections.

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    • One thing I have discovered about politics and politicians, especially state and municipal politicians, is that “buying” a politician is cheap. Whenever a politician gets taken down in some kind of bribery or corruption scandal, I am always amazed at the small size of the “contribution”. Usually something along the lines of a 4 to 5 figure contribution goes a long way in terms of getting a politician to do what you want and can reap millions in profits.

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    • Citizens United is no guarantee that rich people won’t back garden-variety idiots.

      Hillary Clinton is being run by the Powers that Be, so don’t you dare tell me that the rich people aren’t running our elections (spoiler alert: they’re also spinning plates on our economy as well).

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    • Well, Trump did pay a big percentage of his own way through the primaries. While he may not be as wealthy as he claims, he is in fact wealthy by any reasonable definition of that word.

      The point about all of that donor money not helping out Jeb! is well-taken, though: same thing for Walker, and Perry in the previous cycle. They all attracted big money early, but the actual voters didn’t like the candidate or the message or something, so the dog never went hunting.

      So the lesson I take from Jeb! is, yes, money is a factor but it’s not decisive. Even in a post-Citizens United world, the voters still get to decide what person and what platform they want. And the lesson of Trump in Jeb!’s wake is, when they decide wrong (as they can do) there is not much by way of a safety net.

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    • And of course, if Trump had been spending his own money that would have been a personal campaign contribution, not a corporate one. A reversal of Citizens United would only have stopped people who aren’t super rich from spending large sums of money.

      Your observation jibes with a lot of political science research – campaign spending buys you into the game, but it doesn’t guarantee you a victory. The winner is the candidate the median voter prefers.

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    • Richard Hershberger: here we are, with Nominee Trump (who, however rich he may or may not be, didn’t spend his own money on this).

      He staked his nomination campaign with a 40 plus million dollar loan. Some of that may be paid back to him (he’s said he would convert that to a straight up contribution, but we know how much his word is worth on these sort of things. Iirc the FEC reports haven’t cleared things up yet.)

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  6. So let’s go to Earth-2.

    It’s Jeb vs. Hillary. Jeb is representative of a new, scary kind of white nationalism, he’s arguably the most sexist candidate the Republicans have run since Reagan, and there’s tape of him talking about “the Mexicans” instead of just “Americans of Mexican-American heritage”.

    How’s he doing in the polls against Hillary?

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    • Neck and neck, probably. Jeb is not a great campaigner in any timeline, and I think he would have been pretty well trounced in the debates with Clinton. It would boil down to fundamentals slightly favoring the GOP, and campaign and candidate quality slightly favoring Clinton. I really don’t think Earth-2’s WikiLeaks would be trying to manufacture an October Surprise for Jeb the way they are for Clinton.

      The lines of attack you mentioned work well against Trump because they were so flagrantly true, and so easy to support. They don’t land as well against establishment candidates.

      My favorite timeline to think about is Earth-7, with Jeb! vs. Bernie.

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      • PIllsy,
        Yeah, we’ll assume Hillarys just as crazy in Earth2 as she is now (because Bernie, the left, etc). So, yeah, Wikileaks has what they’ve got, and is still publishing it.

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    • I reject your premise. That’s simply not how Jeb! would be acting in Earth-2. It’s clear enough that divergence from Earth-Prime occurs at some point in the 2015-2016 primary season, so we know a few things about this hypo which are going to be counterfactual, particularly the specific sort of description of Jeb! in the hypothetical.

      I’m not saying Jeb! is a wonderful candidate, clean and perfect on issues of race and gender relations. But it’s not realistic to think that Jeb!, whose wife of forty-two years is a naturalized citizen originally hailing from Mexico and whose favorite meal is his wife’s chilaques, will either have or be perceived to have any sort of aversion to Latinos, Latino culture, or Spanish. Chances are, Jeb! will have flexed his fluency in Spanish and interjected whole paragraphs of Spanish into his stump speech, like “¿Por favor voten por mí?” and “El Partido Republicano tiene mucho que ofrecer, por favor lea nuestra plataforma y decidir por sí mismo.” It’s quite unlikely that even in Earth-2, Jeb! is doing anything about white nationalism other than pretending it doesn’t exist.

      So I think that in this more realistic Earth-2, Jeb! would be comfortably in the lead in Florida, and his minions would be making plays to take Virginia and Nevada and Pennsylvania back for the Republicans. Clinton is probably still leading, but not by nearly the sorts of margins we’re seeing in the actual election here on Earth-Prime.

      …Unless you want to say that Earth-2 is actually Bizarro World and in this Earth-2, Jeb! is married to a Slovenian supermodel, had never held public office, acted consumed by visible narcissism and behavior resembling untreated ADHD, spray-tans too much, and lives in a Manhattan high-rise skyscraper he named after himself. I mean, how different is this Earth-2 from Earth-Prime anyway?

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        • Okay, but I still don’t think it sticks. Jeb! is not a white nationalist, and is no more a racist than a standard-breed Republican (a breed which, at worst, is well-dressed and polite enough to be taken around in respectable public company, and only occasionally makes only-debatably revelatory slips).

          So in your Earth-2, perhaps Jeb! makes a malapropism (a mistake which, experience shows, is endemic to this particular family). He takes as much of a hit on it as Romney did or McCain before him. Which is to say, there’s a sting, but it winds up being just one more thing thrown into the stew rather than becoming the principal ingredient of the dish.

          Indeed, Earth-2 voters are probably hearing that not only is Jeb! a secret racist, but he’s also… kind of, well, dim, not the smartest Bush in the forest. Maybe not “slow,” per se, but don’t we want someone smarter than him to be President? Remember, Republicans are always at least one of “dumb” or “evil,” and sometimes can be both.

          But also, Earth-2 Jeb! and his minions would have found some mud to throw back on Clinton and had the self-restraint to let the attack on her be the story of the day. Just like Republicans are always “dumb” or “evil” or both, Democrats are always “corrupt” or “dangerously radical” or both. Earth-2 voters have been hearing months’ worth of leaked stories about the exact problems with the e-mail server, we’d have been hearing more about the pay-for-play Clinton Foundation. There’d be more scariness about guns and taxes and flip-flopping on trade and wild-eyed liberal judges on SCOTUS. (Back here on Earth-Prime, Trump has ample material to work with given all of that, but he simply cannot tolerate that the spotlight ever be on someone other than himself, even if the whole point of putting the spotlight on Clinton is to make her look bad.)

          So it’s a massive mudfest at this point on Earth-2. I don’t think it’ll be enough, Clinton-2 probably wins, but it’s a lot closer. Republicans hang on to the Senate there instead of what’s happening here on Earth-Prime, where some very optimistic Democrats are wondering if they might not also take the House, too.

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      • I read ‘s argument differently: that Democrats would be making these sorts of attacks on Jeb! even though they’re not nearly as easy to land, in much the way that they launched similar attacks on Mitt Romney. I’ve defended those attacks on Romney, too, but they obviously didn’t work as effectively, and served a very different purpose from a strategic point of view.

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        • Remember this gem?

          The whole “binder full of women” phrase both simultaneously abrades and appeals to our funny bones, I think, because it just sounds so anachronistic. Binders conjure up images of corsets, or the practice of foot binding young Chinese girls. Merriam Webster defines “bind” as: a: to make secure by tying. b: to confine, restrain, or restrict as if with bonds. c : to put under an obligation. Do you see why women are railing against our binders?

          Good times.

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            • Social Justice Warriors are a tool that doesn’t realize they’re being wielded.
              Kinda like Black Lives Matter.

              Astroturf, the lot of ’em.

              (And yes, like the Tea Party, claiming they’re astroturf will send them squealing like pigs.)

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        • D’s would be making some of the same attacks against Bush. But there are plenty that are unique to His Trumpness ( cat grabbing, getting all kissy and huggy, vulgarity, almost complete incoherence on policy) Of course R’s would be making the same complaints about any D being a socialist or hating America regardless who the D nominee was.

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      • But that’s literally tokenism thinking. It’s nominating Michael Steele to head the RNC and expecting your “black problem” to be over.

        “Look, Jeb’s got a wife from Mexico! He speaks Spanish! Ignore all the xenophobic screaming the party has been doing for years! It’s Jeb! He’s your friend“.

        The best thing you can say about Jeb is, well, he’s probably not really a “Built a Wall” sort of guy and that wouldn’t be a priority. I mean he’s probably got Florida in hand, but that has little to do with his Spanish abilities.

        The problem for the GOP isn’t (well, not until this year) the headliners. It’s the rest of the party. It’s that 30% of the base that’s loud and proud, that keeps nominating crazy people in off-year elections. This year, they finally got the big prize with Trump — but they’ve been getting smaller, but quite visible, prizes for years.

        Ever since they deep-sixed Bush’s immigration reform plans, in fact.

        Which leads into another thing. It’s been three electoral cycles of anti-immigration anger and the GOP’s numbers with Hispanics keep dropping. They’ve lost a lot of those votes for good — you vote for one party for a decade, and you tend to stick with that party for a very, very, long time.

        Jeb could run in 2020, but I think the view of the GOP as anti-Hispanic xenophobes is completely baked into the cake.

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          • Well true, the idea is to convince white voters they’re not siding with racists.

            I still recall fondly Romney in 2012, wherein I’d see — in a single day — multiple people explain the “Real Romney” and “Real Romney plan” which was at total odds to what he’d said, and to each other’s explanations.

            They were all convinced he was “playing to the rubes” but really, secretly, believed exactly what they believed.

            Which was a fantastic trick, he managed to run almost as “generic Republican”. And still lost, which does not bode well long-term.

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            • I see this a fair amount. Someone is invested in a particular candidate, for whatever reasons good or bad. That person then builds a fantasy version of said candidate; one which agrees with that person on all points.

              It goes like this: “I am a very smart person. It follows from this that my opinions are correct. It further follows that the guy I support must be smart, too, or I would be supporting him. And since he is smart, the unavoidable conclusion is that he agrees with me. Therefore any public statements inconsistent with this are a sign that he is playing the rubes, which just shows how smart he is!” QED, sucka!

              This also is consistent with visceral issues hitting harder than policy issues. If our hero does not think of himself as someone who grabs pussy and brags about it, then hearing Trump do this might cause him to reevaluate matters.

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    • I don’t think “Democrats will launch negative attacks” is a particularly informative feature of Earth 2. Given that the attacks between Obama and Clinton during the primary were much more vicious (Obama surrogates calling Clinton a monster; Clinton compared Obama’s run to the RFK assassination) it’s not even clear that viciousness of attacks is a good metric of the relationship between the candidates at all. The big difference on Earth 2 is that Jeb would be making inroads with conservative-leaning women, latinos, asians, and white youths in a way that is impossible for Trump, and may be impossible for a long time. That doesn’t mean the GOP would be re-orienting around those demographics, but it could at least consider the needs (and practicality) of those voters versus that of their base.

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    • “let’s go to Earth-2.”

      I’d rather go to the Earth that nominated a Walker-Fiorina ticket, and we’re having discussions about whether we’d rather have Walker’s fake populism or Clinton’s fake progressivism.

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  7. You know, kind of tangential — but the longer I look at Rubio, the weaker a candidate he appears. He’s kind of like a lesser Romney. Weak in all the ways Romney was, without any of Romney’s strengths.

    He just feels like someone who was picked to fill in a bit part. “We need a Republican who can speak Spanish. Rubio? That works” and that was the end of it.

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    • I never understood why anyone thought that Rubio would be a strong candidate. Everything about this says “lightweight” to me. And this is before we start digging into this background.

      See also: Mike Pence 2020. Run, Mike! Run!

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  8. On July 9, 2015, when Jeb announced Right to Rise’s haul, he was at 16.3 percent in the polling. By the end of October of 2015, Right to Rise had spent $46 million. The result? Jeb had dropped to 6.6 percent in the polling.

    Yeah, this was amazing.

    So Right to Rise went after other candidates. According to ProPublica, by February 2016, Right to Rise had spent almost $35 million against Rubio. They had spent over $20 million against Kasich. They had spent almost $15 million against Christie. And they had spent less than $5 million against Trump, and less than $50,000 exclusively against Trump; Mike Murphy, the head of Right to Rise, famously noted back in August 2015 that Trump was “other people’s problem.” Any hope for a establishment alternative got carpet-bombed.

    Ultimately, this has more to do with Trump’s rise than anything else, I think. The attraction of the alt-right is the storyline, but the alt-right isn’t all of the right.

    Here we had the establishment candidate, with the establishment money, harpooning all of the other possible establishment candidates. From a “normal election” standpoint strategy, it makes a degree of sense… if you assume that the *people* will settle on one of the normal candidates, making yourself look better than all the others is a strategy that can work.

    But nobody applied failure analysis to this train of thinking.

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    • People dismissed Trump because he appeared to be a buffoonish vanity candidate. I’m very sympathetic to this reasoning, because he is a buffoonish vanity candidate. This is a fine series of posts, but I don’t think the big story is the failures of the serious candidates to stop Trump: the real question is why this jackass was even in the running. And, honestly, I don’t think it’s because John Oliver is smug.

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      • If Biden would have thrown his hat in the ring, (and/or O’Malley would have been more than an electoral speed bump) does Sanders have a viable path to the nomination?

        This is not BSDI, this is pointing out that a deeply divided political landscape can result in a dedicated minority getting all the power. (It’s how Hitler got to where he did, after all)

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        • Sanders is a US Senator. He’s been in Congress for 25 years. He has an actual agenda that he can articulate, that he’s expressed consistently, and that his supporters would continue to support if the messenger changed.

          Sanders’s views are extreme and unworkable, but he was an effective advocate for them. Trump has no views except that he should win because he’s a winner.

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        • That was pretty much my mistake. I thought Trump would follow the pattern of every other clown that peaked then popped in 2016 and 2012.

          I didn’t really think the GOP racist vote was 30% of their base. I was thinking 10%, max.

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  9. Almost completely unrelated to this, and sorry that it’s a twitter link, but I wanted to share this with everyone:

    We all have theories about why *Trump* is in this, the tv network is popular but…
    https://twitter.com/GQMagazine/status/787986554610253824
    …Olbermann has an interesting theory that maybe Trump is merely being used by the (literal) anti-Clinton right-wing conspiracy. Like, it’s actually the same people in his campaign.

    And at the end, he points out they probably would not mind her winning…it give them four years to make stuff up about her. And *he* thinks this means Trump might be being used.

    What he *doesn’t* mention is, if Trump making his own TV network…the plan could be to bring those people long with them. He’s got a grievance to talk about for four or eight years, and he’s got a cast of experts at making up stuff about Hillary.

    Which *then* raises the interesting possibility that, basically, almost everyone at the Trump campaign can be in on the con. Maybe this actually *isn’t* a legitimate campaign on the part of *anyone* involved.

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