Back when Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign was just an expensive disaster-in-the-making rather than February roadkill, his longtime adviser and Right to Rise super-pac chief Mike Murphy projected the air of a strategic genius playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. In the occasional interviews, he hinted at deep analytical reservoirs and warned of carpet-bombing negative-ad contingencies, and even suggested he was already thinking about the general election even as others watched his candidate’s approval ratios go far underwater.
After it all became a fait accompli and turned Murphy into the poster boy for high-dollar political-consultant futility, he kept his counsel for a while. But now he’s cut loose via an interview that The Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash has made into the funniest political read of the cycle so far.
About the only personal mistake Murphy owns up to in the piece is that he misjudged every consideration of timing in running someone like Jeb Bush for president in what he calls “the year of the howling moron.” He mostly blames Bush’s rivals for failing — until it was too late — to join Jeb in going after Trump. And he’s more than a little bitter at the media, partly for (in his view) wasting time on speculation about his salary (which he swears was mid six figures, an amount considered modest among king-makers), but also for “their precious helicopter-mom dreams” about Marco Rubio, whose presence in the race was one of the problems Team Jeb could not solve. In the end, he concludes “there is no campaign trick or spending level or candidate whisperer who can prevent a party from committing suicide if it wants to.”
But Murphy doesn’t stop there. He indulges in the fascist analogies that others just think about or whisper, telling Labash that “90 percent of the people in your corrupt business [are] selling tickets to Trump’s Mussolini act,” and comparing Chris Christie to Franz von Papen, the great enabler of Hitler who foolishly thought he could keep the Führer under his thumb. And in a fine talking point for a Democratic general-election campaign, Murphy suggests a Trump victory would be like “putting a chimp in the driver’s seat of a tractor,” and could cause an economic calamity: “We get away with a lot of shit because people think we have a stable system. But if your banker comes in one day wearing a diaper, speaking gibberish, you’re going to pull your money out of that checking account.”
No, it doesn’t look like Murphy’s going to be invited to speak at any unity events in Cleveland. He certainly does not share the hopes of some Establishment Republicans that John Kasich can save their bacon in the late primaries or the convention: “He’s trying to start an opera club at a tractor pull.”
As you have probably figured out by now, Murphy’s able to be so entertaining because he’s rich enough and has enough nonpolitical business (particularly in Hollywood) that he clearly doesn’t care if his outspokenness gets him blackballed from Republican politics for a while. If that were not the case, he’d be like the baseball players in the movie Bull Durham, trained to speak in clichés to protect the pious traditions of the game. One of the few hard facts you can learn from Labash’s piece is that Murphy’s super-pac refunded $12 million to donors after Jeb folded his campaign. That means Right to Rise blew through just over $100 million and Jeb won four delegates. That ranks down there with the $144 million Murphy convinced Meg Whitman to spend of her own money to win a booming 40 percent of the vote in a California gubernatorial election in 2010 — his last campaign, as it happened, before Bush’s. So he might as well burn his bridges to the political world. They were already soaked in gasoline.