Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was hoping to use a shock and awe fundraising blitz to establish himself as the GOP front-runner early on in the campaign. The Bush strategy was to lock up donors and early primary voters, in order to give him the same sense of inevitability on the Republican side as Hillary Clinton enjoys in the Democratic race. However, a Fox News poll released on April 24, 2015 finds Bush’s candidacy floundering in the polls, mustering a meager 9 percent support in the multi-candidate GOP field.
Bush has embarrassingly fallen into single digits, trailing fellow Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio (13 percent support), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (12 percent), and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (10 percent). Bush is tied for fourth place with former Arkansas Governor and FOX TV personality Mike Huckabee, garnering just 9 percent support from potential Republican voters.
While the poll numbers alone are a source of concern for Jeb Bush, what may cause him even more consternation is that he also seems to be losing his grip on the invisible primary of wealthy donors in the GOP. The Bush campaign always figured they might struggle to appeal to some socially conservative rank-and-file Republicans, but their strategy was to lock down the donor class.
With enough financial support, Jeb’s hope was to essentially pummel his opponents financially and will his way to victory through the power of the almighty dollar. Bush planned to rely on the ability of heavily funded pro-Bush super PACs to trash his primary opponents and propel him to the nomination, following a pattern similar to the one employed by Mitt Romney in 2012 to fend off Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
For a time, it looked like Bush would steamroll the GOP field with a cash-flush juggernaut that might raise as much as $100 million in the first quarter, using a variety of super PACs to push the boundaries of campaign finance laws and dominate the field.
But that was before New York hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer pledged more than $15 million to Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio gained the full-fledged support of Miami billionaire Norman Braman and became the front-runner to win casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s backing. Another rival, Scott Walker, recently became the favorite of billionaire David Koch, who seemed to tip his support for the Wisconsin governor at a fundraiser this week.
So not only has Jeb Bush begun to sink in the national polls, but he is also falling apart on the competitive fundraising front, losing the support of a significant number of prominent billionaires. Jeb Bush may have miscalculated just how ideologically right-wing Republican billionaire donors have become.
Bush’s campaign has tried to market him as the “reasonable Republican” who won’t scare business people away with his extremist ideology. What Bush’s people may have misunderstood is that Republican-friendly billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers are not necessarily interested in choosing a reasonable candidate. The GOP billionaires are perfectly comfortable with right-wing lunacy as long as the crazy man they put in the White House will grant them the right tax exemptions.
Jeb Bush may be discovering the hard way, that moderate Republicans are a dying breed. If he wants to raise an obscene amount of money to secure the GOP nomination, he may have to run further to the right. More importantly, his chances of securing the Republican nomination may depend upon his ability to convince right-wing voters that he really is one of them. Pandering to the far right won’t help Jeb Bush in November 2016, but if he doesn’t win the support of hardcore conservatives, his odds of making it to November are becoming increasingly slim.