It says a lot about the malaise afflicting the once-high-flying Jeb Bush for President effort that the most upbeat thing two Politico reporters could find to say is that Team Bush has done a good job of convincing key donors to ignore all the objective evidence that the campaign is going nowhere fast.
But such acts of hypnosis are not easily extended to the circling media vultures smelling death, or for that matter, to actual voters. So what is to be done by a presidential campaign that still has quite a bit of money over at the super-pac run by veteran political consultant Mike Murphy, but is selling a well-known product that consumers just don’t seem to like?
According to Politico’s Stokols and Caputo, there’s a sort of doomsday scenario kicking around Bush world that should send a frisson of fear into other candidates’ camps:
Mike Murphy, the Los Angeles-based ad man running Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, isn’t about to leave the $75 million left in the group’s bank account unspent….
According to another source close to Right to Rise, Murphy has been floating another tactical shift to potential supporters, suggesting that he might spend the bulk of the $75 million to carpet bomb Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Christie — everyone but Trump. The thinking: making the race into a binary choice between Bush and Trump might be the only way a majority of primary voters go with Bush.
Keep in mind that Murphy’s already spent about $28 million on positive ads touting Jeb’s record, and the candidate has been slowly sinking like a stone in the places the ads have run.
Murphy’s reportedly preparing a 15-minute pro-Bush ad — or as he calls it, a “documentary” — just in case the problem has been too small a serving of rich Jebby goodness. He tried the same thing in 2010 in another campaign with more money than candidate appeal, Meg Whitman’s California gubernatorial bid, to no avail. So the rumored carpet-bombing Plan B is something the political world should take seriously.
Trouble is, this sort of strategic nastiness normally works best for candidates who are doing well but want to cut a rival or two down to size: viz., Mitt Romney in 2012, whose super-pac zapped Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum in succession as he gradually climbed to an unassailable lead. Even if the negative ads are effective, they may benefit another candidate who is more popular and/or doesn’t have so much blood on his hands. So to create the desired one-on-one with Trump, the carpet-bombing would have to be simultaneous and lethal.
And if it doesn’t work, of course, or if other candidates respond in kind, Team Jeb will have bought a nice supply of ammunition for Democrats to use against the eventual nominee, just as the frantic efforts of Mitt’s victims came back to haunt him in the general-election campaign. But what the hell? This is presumably Jeb Bush’s last campaign, unless he somehow wins and runs for reelection. The people around him, though, might want to consider whether this could be their last campaign as well — and not by their own wish.