The political campaigns are about to go into a deep freeze over the holidays, as the nation’s attention turns to other things. And I’m beginning to wonder whether Jeb Bush might use this hiatus as an opportunity to quietly walk away and end his campaign.
He probably won’t. He probably should.
The one-time frontrunner is going nowhere but down in the polls, both nationally and at the state level. He’s in fifth place in Iowa at 6 percent, which isn’t necessarily disastrous. But he’s doing no better in New Hampshire, which ought to be friendlier territory for him. At roughly 7 percent, he’s in a virtual three-way tie for fourth in the Granite State with John Kasich and Ben Carson.
Bush also continues to prove hapless and ineffectual in the debates, the very picture of all that the GOP base has decided to reject. As governor of Florida, he had a reputation as someone more than willing to play hardball, but in person his tough-guy persona doesn’t come across as credible. He’s Mitt Romney without the street smarts. As a result, his campaign’s sole reason for existence these days seems to be to spend all the money it raised back in the heady days of spring and early summer.
Now, none of that means that Jeb and his inner circle have given up. Whatever else you might say about them, the Bush family aren’t quitters. But there’s more here at play than Bush’s own fate. The party establishment that tabbed Jeb as its champion early in the race is showing signs of increasing nervousness verging on desperation. It’s bad enough that Bush has faltered; what makes it much much worse is that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have emerged as the two leaders in the race, and the prospect of either as the nominee terrifies the party professionals.
They realize that they have one realistic alternative, one potential failsafe against disaster. His name is Marco Rubio. And you have to think that at some point pretty soon they’re going to decide that they better do everything possible to strengthen Rubio’s candidacy, including clearing the field of would-be competitors for what remains of the moderate GOP electorate.
In short, the same party leaders who rallied around Bush as the responsible, seasoned grownup may soon go and appeal to him, as the responsible, seasoned grownup, to get out of the race for the good of the party and the country. Stepping aside in favor of his one-time protege, a man whom Bush clearly believes is not ready for the job, would be hard. But sometimes you take one for the team.
Admittedly, this is all conjecture. Hope, pride, family expectations and money in the campaign fund may very well keep Bush in the race a while longer. But I’ll be very surprised if he’s still campaigning come March 15, when the delegate-rich Florida primary is held.