Jeb Bush Loses Three Top Fundraisers; Signs Of Trouble Ahead?
Jeb Bush's campaign has been in a rough patch for several weeks at least, and now he's lost three top fundraisers.
There could be some big trouble brewing in Jeb! land:
Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy, POLITICO has learned.
There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley, and Debbie Aleksander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign.
None of the three responded to requests for comment. Bush spokesman Tim Miller would only say that “Governor Bush has the widest and deepest fundraising operation of any candidate in the field. Ann Herberger — a longtime aide with more than two decades of experience in state and national politics — will continue to lead the operation in Florida with our team in Miami.”
The departures came at a time of uncertainty for Bush. While he has had massive success raising money for his Super PAC, he is overseeing an official campaign that has many more staffers but far less money. Earlier this week, the New York Times revealed that it had taken steps to rein in some of its spending and had gone so far as to cut some employee salaries. And POLITICO reported one Bush fundraiser expressed concerns about the slowing pace of the campaign’s fundraising after Bush’s shaky debate performance.
The Bush campaign wasted no time seeking a replacement for the three fundraising consultants and has reached out to Meredith O’Rourke – one of Florida’s top Republican fundraisers who briefly worked for Chris Christie’s campaign in May but left it in July. O’Rourke, who wouldn’t comment, helped Gov. Rick Scott raise about $100 million for his 2014 reelection campaign and also works for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s likely to run for governor in 2018.
One source attributed the departures to personality conflicts in the campaign. Some identified Bush’s finance director, Heather Larrison, as a shouter with whom it’s difficult to work. She wouldn’t comment. Others singled out Money as a problem due to what they describe as his haughtiness and his heavy-handed donate-or-else attitude with potential contributors.
“They were glad to go. This wasn’t a shock to anybody,” said one campaign source. “There were just some personality problems. It happens when you have a big organization like this, a big campaign. Some of the national people are tough to work for.”
Another campaign source, though, said the three fundraising consultants – who worked on contract and were not staffers – were let go because they weren’t raising enough money relative to how much they had been raising during the last financial quarter.
“We appreciated their work, but we are entering a new phase of the campaign post Labor Day, and we needed to move in a different direction,” the source said.
It’s probably important not to overstate the importance of these departures. After all, these three people are just a few of the fundraisers working for Jeb Bush’s campaign and there are plenty more working for the pro-Bush SuperPAC Right To Rise. Additionally, Bush’s combined campaign and SuperPAC fundraising in the quarter concluded on June 30th was the best of any of the Republican candidates for President, and his campaign fundraising alone was fairly impressive considering that he had only been in the race for two weeks before the fundraising quarter ended. At the same time, though the fact that these reports are coming out at the same time that there are other reports that Bush’s fundraising in the current quarter has not met expectations and that he has fallen in the polls both nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire is certainly something to keep an eye on. After all, as Jonathan Allen puts it, fundraisers don’t generally quit campaigns that are going well:
The three fundraising aides left after clashing with national campaign staff, Politico reported, and it’s not clear whether they will continue to have a role with Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC. But what is clear is this: It’s rare for three high-profile staffers to bolt a campaign they see as likely to land the candidate in the White House, and it’s equally rare for a winning campaign to shed three high-profile aides.
The exception that proves the rule: Veteran strategist Roger Stone parted ways with Trump this summer. But everyone who watches politics closely is familiar with the panic cycle:
- A struggling campaign shakes up its staff, which sends a signal to supporters both that the campaign is in trouble and that the candidate understands that
- Staffers fight over who is to blame for flagging performance in polls
- One side wins and the other heads for the exits
In early February 2008, Hillary Clinton ousted campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle and replaced her with the team of Maggie Williams and Cheryl Mills. There was no similar shake-up on Barack Obama’s winning campaign that year. In September 2004, two months before he would lose to George W. Bush, John Kerry brought on several former aides to President Bill Clinton in a shake-up that the Kerry campaign insisted against all evidence was not a shake-up. Bush, on the other hand, had a remarkably stable stable of advisers in his winning campaigns of 2004 and 2000.
To a large degree, this has not been a very good summer for Bush. His campaign roll-out was successful enough, and he’d spent enough time prior to formally getting into the race traveling the country and raising money to make a big splash once he got in, but it didn’t last very long. Most of all, of course, Bush has suffered from the same problem that most of the other Republican candidates have been suffering from, namely the combination of Donald Trump’s rise in the polls and the fact that the media is paying far more attention to him than he is to any of the other candidates. In recent weeks, it has seemed as though the only way that Bush or any of the other candidates can get their name into media mix is to criticize Trump, as Bush recently did with regard to immigration. Of course, doing that inevitably leads to Trump pushing back in the most classless way possibly, which only seems to energize his supporters more and leads to more media attention for him at the expense of the other candidates. Because of that, the story of the polls of the Republican race over the past two months has largely been one of Trump rising at the expense of nearly every other candidate in the race with the exception of people such as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina who are obviously not going to be the Republican nominee. As long as this continues, Bush and the other candidates will continue to have problems.
Beyond the impact of the Trump phenomenon, though, Bush has his own problems that are starting to become apparent. General Bush fatigue is an issue that Bush has had to deal with for some time now, for example, but it seems to be becoming more apparent now among Republican voters. Additionally, the party’s conservative base has never been a fan of the former Florida Governor thanks in large part due to his advocacy of ideas such as immigration reform and education policies such as Common Core. Bush, then, is really mostly the candidate of the party establishment, something that can be seen in his recent endorsements in Virginia where he was endorsed by people such as former Congressman Eric Cantor and John Hager, a former Lieutenant Governor who hasn’t been in office for thirteen years as well as the former head of the Republican Party of Virginia whose term of less than a year ended seven years ago. The thing about endorsements from Republican insiders, though, is that these people are backing Bush because they think he can win. If that perceptions changes, they’re likely to jump ship to a different candidate. In this case, the most likely replacement as the “establishment” candidate for 2016 would be Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has seen himself rise in the polls since entering the race in mid-July. In fact, Kasich now leads Bush in the New Hampshire poll average.
The departure of three fundraisers is hardly the end of the road for Jeb Bush. Other candidates whom many thought would be serious contenders for the nomination, such as Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul, are facing far more serious issues in their campaigns and may not last until the end of the year. At the same time, though, these departures come at time when Bush is dealing with several other problems and his once formidable campaign now seems vulnerable. Unless he starts turning things around, he may be in trouble.