For Establishment Republicans, elections aren’t about winning or losing — it’s how you play the expectations game that really counts. And Jeb Bush is taking that game to a whole new level.
“I think we’ll do better than fifth here,” the former Florida governor — who has spent more on advertising in South Carolina than any other candidate — told CBS This Morning. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
Despite going into Saturday’s primary with lower expectations for himself than you have for Zoolander 2, Bush is still on pace to fall short of his goal. In the latest PPP poll of the Palmetto State, Bush is tied with Ben Carson — a perpetually sedated amateur Egyptologist who barely has a campaign anymore — for fifth place. And it isn’t like South Carolina is an especially challenging state for Bush. His family has longtime ties to the local party, which delivered a major victory for Jeb’s brother back in 2000. In fact, Bush is actually doing twice as well in South Carolina as he is nationally: The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll has Bush in dead last, with 4 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Florida senator Marco Rubio is also defining victory downward. On Monday, his allies told The State that he’s expecting a “breakout performance” in South Carolina — which they define as a third-place finish.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, has roughly double the support of his closest competitor — Texas senator Ted Cruz — both in South Carolina and nationally. His decision to go full Michael Moore at last Saturday’s debate apparently did nothing to disrupt his steady march to the nomination. So long as all the Establishment candidates keep finding ways to lower the bar for themselves — “If we don’t lose all our campaign funds in a drunken game of blackjack, Nevada’s a win for us” — it’s hard to see how the anti-Trump vote will ever coalesce.