Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign is in trouble. This week alone, it has sustained a top-level campaign shake-up and reports have circulated that it may fall short of its fundraising goal. But a review of the public record shows it already fell way short of its fundraising goal, and has been behind predictions for months. Not by a few million dollars, either, but by as much as $400 million — or 80 percent as the most optimistic predictions Bush loyalists have circulated.
All of this — campaign shuffles and fundraising shortfalls — before Mr. Bush has even declared his candidacy. What happened?
On Nov. 26, 2012, less than a month after telling Ann Romney to find new stables for her horses (because she was heading to Washington), Romney pollster Neil Newhouse was meeting with Mr. Bush and other Bush alumni at a downtown D.C. hotel to put the past behind them and talk about 2016.
Less than two years later, in the fall of 2014, those Bush alumni began quietly spreading the word: Don’t join the other campaigns yet, boys, the boss hasn’t made a decision yet. Meanwhile on the media circuit, family members from mother to brother began chirping their approval.
Just after New Years Day, Mr. Bush launched his Right to Rise PAC; met privately with former Gov. Mitt Romney; and cleared his biggest rival for moderate Republican donors from the field before January 2015 was up.
Those were heady times, and Bush loyalists were excited.
“Jeb Bush’s allies are setting a fundraising goal of $100 million in the first three months of this year,” Bloomberg reported on Jan. 9.
Loyalists close to Mr. Bush quickly sought to taper those predictions, but private arrogance continued to leak: “All across Wall Street and the rest of the nation, donors who attended high-dollar Bush events are whispering that the former Florida governor could raise as much as $100 million in the first quarter of the year — and maybe $500 million by June, if not significantly more,” Politico reported on March 16.
The first signs of trouble came on May 8, when campaign aides quietly lengthened the timeline. “Right to Rise is said to be on track for raising an historic $100 million by the end of May,” Politico reported, moving the timeline from the first three months of the year to the first five.
Then within a week, that timeline was moved back again — this time another two months, to the end of July. “The tally is widely expected to exceed $100 million, though details won’t be disclosed until Mr. Bush‘s super PAC, Right to Rise, files a report by July 31,” The Wall Street Journal reported on May 15, a week after the Politico’s report.
It was time for a shake-up in Florida.
On Monday, longtime Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw ordered a dramatic rearrangement of leadership, hiring an outside campaign consultant to take the lead on the trail just a week before Mr. Bush is expected to announce he is formally running. The New York Times described the move as designed “to address persistent questions surrounding his presidential candidacy.”
That same day, his aides tried “to deflect attention away from the reshuffling,” assuring the Times once again “that Mr. Bush would raise $100 million in the first six months of the year.”
But in a Washington Post article published the very next day, they told a dramatically different tale: “two individuals familiar with internal discussions believe the total that the Right to Rise super PAC will report in mid-July could be substantially lower than the nine figures that senior Republicans have anticipated.”
Mr. Bush’s PAC may very well hit that impressive sum of $100 million by July 31 — just not “in the first three months of this year.” Nor “by the end of May.” Nor “by the end of” June. And it certainly won’t be the once-floated “$500 million by June.”
But that seems to be operations as usual for the Bush team. From his muscling out competition to his frequent and unabashed attacks on conservative Republicans, Mr. Bush’s aides have made clear that they consider his rise inevitable.
Conservatives, meanwhile, should consider Mr. Bush’s campaign the most flagrant and serious primary-election attack on their tenuous grip on national power since former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller 50 years ago. And any scoffing at the campaign not pulling in as many hundreds of millions as predicted will very likely cease when even a fraction of that cash starts raining down on their heads.
Mr. Bush is a major player in the Republican field, but as the frequent gaffes and missteps of his rollout have illustrated, his operation is rusty at best. Even in its fundraising — an assumed strength he used to clear the field of moderate opposition — the early campaign has made the basic mistake of overpromising and underdelivering.
Mr. Bush is formidable, but he is not the giant he would have conservatives believe. And he is not inevitable.