Signs Of Trouble For Jeb Bush

Once the Republican frontrunner, Jeb Bush is now floundering and dealing with donors worried that they may be backing the wrong horse.

Jeb Bush Campaign Speech

Today’s news brings signs of trouble for Jeb Bush’s Presidential campaign, which has been struggling for some time now:

Jeb Bush, once a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is implementing an across-the-board pay cut for his struggling campaign as he attempts to regain traction just 100 days before the party’s first nominating contest.

The campaign is removing some senior staff from the payroll, parting ways with some consultants, and downsizing its Miami headquarters to save more than $1 million per month and cut payroll by 40 percent this week, according to Bush campaign officials who requested anonymity to speak about internal changes. Senior leadership positions remain unchanged.

The campaign is also cutting back 45 percent of its budget, except for dollars earmarked for TV advertising and spending for voter contacts, such as phone calls and mailers. Some senior-level staff and consultants will continue to work with the campaign on a volunteer basis, while other junior-level consultants, primarily in finance but including other areas, will be let go, the officials said. The officials declined to say who would be removed from the payroll or provide an exact dollar figure for the savings. (A summary of the changes, provided to Bloomberg Politics by the campaign, is posted here.)

Bush’s advisers, under pressure from their donors and from falling and stagnant poll numbers, have been discussing ways to retool the campaign in recent days, and came to the conclusion that a course correction was essential. While recent tangles with Donald Trump have energized the campaign, Bush’s senior team recognized a more fundamental set of changes was required that didn’t involve dealing directly with the party’s surprising—and surprisingly durable—front-runner.

Analysts and rival campaigns will view the changes as a desperate act, perhaps the last one, of a man whose campaign has dropped in the polls in recent months and has remained mired in the middle of a crowded field despite a month-long blitz of friendly television ads. None of the changes deal directly with what even many of Bush’s supporters say is his main challenge: The burden of trying to convince voters hungry for change to choose a man whose father and brother both served as president.

Officials said the changes—the second time the campaign has cuts its payroll this year—will enable them to shift more resources into New Hampshire, where the campaign has the largest operation in the state, and other states where early voters begin casting ballots in February. There will be more volunteers and surrogates for Bush, which the campaign refers to as “friends of Jeb,” on the ground to help in a state that his brother lost in 2000 and his father won in 1988.

One Bush adviser told Bloomberg Politics in an interview Friday morning that the team was “unapologetic” about the changes, saying the moves were from a “position of strength.” “This is about winning the race,” the adviser said. “We’re doing it now and making the shifts with confidence. We expect to win.”

Bush plans to continue to focus on a core message that argues that he has experience to make the kinds of fundamental changes voters want to see in Washington. The campaign changes reflect that, an adviser said.

The campaign claims to have the most extensive field operation in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, states with the first four nominating contests. Bush had $10.3 million available for the primary race as of Oct. 1, about the same as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, but less than U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. Right to Rise USA, the super-PAC being run by Mike Murphy, raised $103 million in the first six months of the year.

Still, many thought Bush would keep the pole position heading into the 2016 primary calendar. But the former Florida governor and his advisers had little choice but to make the changes to redirect resources and attempt to create a new narrative for the campaign before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa and—more importantly for Bush—the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire.

The root of Bush’s problems can be seen quite easily in the polls of the Republican Presidential race. Right around the time that Donald Trump entered the race, Bush was the clear front runner in the national polls, leading his closest rival at the time, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, by a comfortable margin and far out pacing the rest of the field. Reflective of that strength, Bush turned in fundraising numbers for the reporting period that ended June 30th that were remarkably strong given the fact that he had only been in the race for about two weeks before the reporting period ended. Since then, though, the former Florida Governor has seen his fortunes change significantly. Like the rest of the rest of the Republican field, Bush saw his poll numbers drop as Donald Trump’s rose, and he often has been the target of Trump’s barbs in speeches an interviews in which Trump describes him as “low energy” and in other negative terms. Most recently, Trump baited Bush into an exchange over comments about George W. Bush’s actions before and after the September 11th attacks, a subject that most Republican politicians would stay away from. Bush’s performance in the first two debates has also not been very good, or at least hasn’t received very good reviews. Thanks in no small part to all of that Bush now finds himself in fifth place at 7.2% in the RealClearPolitics national average behind Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Bush’s fortunes have suffered a similar fate in Iowa, where he also stands in fifth place in the polling average at 5.7%, although it’s worth noting that he had never been quite dominant in the Hawkeye State to begin with.  Not surprisingly, Bush is doing somewhat better in New Hampshire, where he’s averaging 9.3% and stands in third place, but even there that is quite a fall from earlier in the year when the former Governor was seemingly alone at the top of the field in the Granite State. Bush is faring worst of all right now in South Carolina, where he stands in sixth place and averaging 5.7% and in danger of falling into also-ran status in the Palmetto State. Finally, the best indication of Bush’s problems can be seen in his home state of Florida, where what was once a seemingly insurmountable lead has shrunk away to the point where a popular two-term former Governor now sits in fourth place behind Trump, Carson, and Rubio with an average of 12.7%.

With numbers like this, Bush’s big advantage in fundraising seems to be drying up for him. Back in August, for example. the Bush campaign lost three of its top fundraisers in a sudden move that surprised nearly all observers. More recently, the campaign has found itself having to reassure many of the big money donors who have put their money on Jeb Bush that the troubles that we saw unfold over the summer would be addressed and the campaign would get back on track. Nonetheless, as the send of the last fundraising quarter approached, there were reports that donors were sending signals to the Bush campaign had become worried about declining poll numbers and mediocre debate performances and that the campaign was being told that it didn’t have much time to turn things around. In recent days, perhaps, we’ve seen tangible signs of that donor angst in the report that Bush raised $13.4 million in the quarter that ended September 30th. This is a respectable amount, but it’s hardly what many expected the former Florida Governor would be able to raise, and it stands in contrast to the $20 million raised by Ben Carson, the virtually unlimited war chest of Donald Trump, and isn’t much more than the $12 million raised by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Most importantly, though, Bush’s FEC report showed that the campaign had just $10 million cash-on-hand and  had a tremendously high burn-rate of 86%, meaning that the campaign was spending nearly as fast as it was raising money. It’s this last fact, no doubt, that is at the core of today’s announcement regarding spending cutbacks.

All of this adds up to very bad news for Jeb Bush.

As it was, he headed into this race as someone fighting against the very strong headwinds of a Republican Party that has moved significantly to the right since his brother first ran for President in 2000, and even further than it had been when his father ran in 1980 and 1988. Whereas George W. Bush benefited to no small degree from his name and pedigree, for Jeb the last name Bush has been something of an albatross ever since people first became speculating about whether or not he would enter the race for the White House. To a large degree, of course, much of this can be attributed to what the political media have called “Bush fatigue” and the idea that Americans in general and Republicans in particular were not ready for the brother of a President and second son of a President to become President in his own right, especially given the legacy that George W. Bush left behind when he departed the White House in January 2009.

Despite those handicaps, Bush was widely seen as a very strong contender for the Republican nomination this time around. In no small part this is because he had become the candidate that much of the “mainstream” wing of the Republican Party, especially the big money donors that had backed Mitt Romney in 2012, and because for a long time he was widely seen as the candidate best positioned to take one Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Presidential nominee. In a typical year, Bush would likely be in a far stronger position than it is right now, but this is not a typical year. In addition to the rise of Donald Trump and the fact that the GOP field is currently dominated by two anti-establishment candidates, the wide-open field right now means that Republican voters and donors have felt much freer to pick and choose who they might back at any given moment. Additionally, one cannot discount the influence of the Tea Party and other populist movements inside the GOP at this point in the race, and all of those movements are very negative about Jeb Bush and any of the other candidates perceived to be part of the “establishment.” Add all of that together, and throw in the 300-pound gorilla named Donald Trump, and the advantages that Bush had when he entered the race are turning out to be far less important than they seemed to be at the start of the race.

None of this is to say that Bush’s campaign is completely doomed. We are still several months away from the start of voting in any of the early primaries, and Bush remains well-positioned financially and organizationally to bounce back in enough time to become a real contender, especially if Republican voters finally do end up bringing their romances with Donald Trump and Ben Carson to an end. It won’t be an easy thing, though. Bush’s fall in the polls, for example, reminds us that Mitt Romney never really fell below second place during the entire 2012 nomination fight and his fundraising remained strong enough to ultimately fend off the challenges posed by candidates like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the primaries themselves. Bush is faring much worse than Romney did four years ago, and he’s being surpassed or equaled in fundraising by other candidates. To some extent, the massive haul that the pro-Bush SuperPAC has taken in will help offset this, but those funds can only be used for certain purposes and if Bush continues to flounder in the polls as we get closer to the kickoff of the primary season we could find things ending for him much sooner than anyone anticipated.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, no, the billionaires want a different purse dog!

    I think they want a Rubio. Who else is left? Fiorina flashed in the pan and was promptly extinguished. Kasich hasn’t caught on, thankfully. Christie might as well be Lincoln Chafee. Cruz is so slimy I can’t believe even Sheldon Adelson is far enough gone into dementia to buy him.

    There’s only one more puppy in the window. The Senile Billionaires Pet Adoption Agency (SBPAA) has to go with Rubio.

    I predict. . . drumroll. . . we’ll see Rubio’s fundraising take a jump in the next period, and ‘Jeb’ (all he can afford, given the high cost of exclamation marks) will be urged to develop a new affection for his family. Stories about the establishment coalescing behind Rubio will start appearing at Politico.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    So the question is when it gets to be last call, who’s the guy the girl’s gonna go home with–continue to play around with the “bad boy” with his James Dean haircut and the leather jacket, or decide to move over to the nice preppie her Mum and Dad would nod approvingly at?

    Decisions, decisions….

  3. steve s says:

    JEB is starting to emit Loser Stank.

  4. steve s says:

    the betting websites now have GOP nomination going to Rubio 33%, odds on JEB are 27%.


    58% odds on hillary winning whole thing.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Given the money he has taken in, it’s really surprising he could mismanage his organization so badly he would need to do the across the board pay cut.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    We haven’t even concluded the Iowa and New Hampshire primary contests and already we’ve learned that Jeb seems to be too light to make this team. Amazing. He’s so much less than I thought he’d be.

    I believe the problem with Jeb is structural – he’s asking voters to vote for him BECAUSE he’s a Bush, instead of asking them to IGNORE the fact that he’s a Bush. In fact, he’s overtly and strongly defending George W. “Fredo’s” record. He’s supposed to be the ‘smart one’ but he’s a lot less than advertised.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    JEB! lost this race the minute his brother chose Dick Cheney as VP.
    Let’s face it…not matter what happens JEB! cannot overcome his brothers complete and utter failure.
    Trump showed everyone how to attack JEB!.
    He’s toast now.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Rhetorical question….how do you see Rubio matching up with the Clinton we saw yesterday in a debate?
    That poor fool doesn’t see the truck coming that’s going to roll right over him.

  9. anjin-san says:

    I have yet to hear Jeb! speak and not sound like a dolt. For the guy who is supposed to be “the smart one”, he is underperforming pretty badly.

    But, as Jay Leno once said, you know you have a problem when the smart one in the family is named Jeb…

  10. C. Clavin says:

    Doh….another Republican conspiracy theory bites the dust…between the Benghazi hearing and this….poor Jenos is going to be crying in his jello.

    The Justice Department is declining to bring charges against Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of a political controversy over the processing of applications for tax-exempt status. Federal prosecutors announced their decision Friday in a letter to members of Congress.

  11. Rafer Janders says:


    In fact, he’s overtly and strongly defending George W. “Fredo’s” record. He’s supposed to be the ‘smart one’ but he’s a lot less than advertised.

    No, no. George W. is Sonny — glib, cocksure, hot-headed, not a thinker. JEB! is a Fredo who thought he was a Michael.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: It was one of the few things that Trump has said that I agreed with 100%. You’re POTUS? Then yeah, what goes down on your watch is your responsibility–especially if it isn’t out of the blue and you were warned about the possibility of it happening. Whatever happened to Harry Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here”?

    Dubya wanted all the fun and the swagger and none of the responsibility. Yet another reason why I detested him like poison.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Supposedly from the memo Jeb! sent around:

    “It’s no secret that the contours of this race have changed from what was anticipated at the start,” the memo said, adding, somewhat defensively, ”We would be less than forthcoming if we said we predicted in June that a reality television star supporting Canadian-style single-payer health care and partial-birth abortion would be leading the G.O.P. primary.”

    (quoted over at Balloon Juice, from Bloomberg)

    As said, you can’t get any cattier than that. Meow!

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: Reminded me of:

    the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    From a strategery stand point this might be wise for JEB!
    Neither Trump nor Carson are going to be the nominee.
    JEB! could bide his time, wait for those two circus clowns to fall off, then duke it out with Rubio…who lets face it, is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
    We are still 3 months out from the first primary contest. With this collection of grifters, carnival barkers, xenophobes, and 3rd rate political minds ….anything can still happen.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: I’ve been pushing a theory that the GOP establishment has developed two wings, the traditional establishment and I’m not sure what, maybe a resource extraction, casino, and car dealer wing. Bush should appeal to the traditional wing since he can be counted on to not do anything really stupid, like not raise the credit limit. I think the Koch Bros wing, for lack of a better name, is happy with whoever has the best chance and has an R after their name, and the dumber the better. They’d be happy with Rubio. I’m not sure the establishment is going to coalesce very easily.

  17. bookdragon says:

    @C. Clavin: LOL – if Rubio had to go through the grilling Clinton weathered, he’d have drunk so much water his eyeballs would’ve been floating before the lunch break.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Heh. I remember reading that. Someone (a Brit) pointed out that this is the great difference between the Japanese and the Brits–the Japanese are understated whether it be good or bad news; the Brits are understated in their victories but enthusiastic about proclaiming their defeats.

  19. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @gVOR08: Old Money versus New Money? Wall Street versus Wild Wild West?

  20. C. Clavin says:

    OT….but how frigging mendacious are Republicans???
    Romney is now praising Obamacare and admitting it is based on Romneycare….after campaigning against Obamacare and saying it is not Romneycare.
    Of course he back-peddled on being called out on it…but not very convincingly…and relying on the same tired talking points.

  21. anjin-san says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    No, no. George W. is Sonny

    Hmm. Sonny was a tough guy who had to fight women off with a stick. Let’s face it, they are both Fredo.

    And Neil is probably Paulie Gatto.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    No, no. George W. is Sonny — glib, cocksure, hot-headed, not a thinker. JEB! is a Fredo who thought he was a Michael.

    I’ve got to agree with you on this, I was wrong.

  23. Neil Hudelson says:

    A burn rate of 86%? Even with Trump’s ascendancy, what type of panic is going on at their headquarters to warrant that type of spending 13 months before the election, and half a yearish before Iowa?

  24. JPV says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    His donors telling him that he betting start improving in the polls or they’re pulling their support.

  25. Guarneri says:

    @grumpy realist:

    So you detest Hillary and Obama too, right?

  26. David M says:


    Libya and Iraq aren’t remotely similar, and aren’t part of the same conversation. Beyond that, is there any reason to think the GOP wouldn’t have been just as gung-ho in Libya?

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: 1) what catastrophe has come down on President Obama’s watch? 2) Hillary has not been POTUS yet, so she is still irrelevant. When she becomes POTUS and an attack that she has been warned about and has had a chance to react to occurs on her watch, then yes, I will be upset.

  28. Tillman says:

    Did you read this piece at National Review over donor ratios predicting eventual success?

  29. Slugger says:

    I know that the race to the nomination seems crazy, but it does provide a good stress test. JEB has showed that he can’t manage with all the money in the world in his back pocket. Go home JEB, you have shown less vitality than Schiavo.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: I like Wall Street v Wild West. I considered old money v new money, but I think you have to count the Kochs as old money.

  31. MarkedMan says:

    Jeb!’s implosion has been sort of painful to watch. I wonder how much of it is living that life of elite privilege coupled with being safely ensconced in the Fox bubble. The fact that W didn’t read anything didn’t surprise me as he was selected by the establishment because he was a malleable moron. But Jeb! Also appears to have gotten his view of the world from the bubble. From the outside he looks like he just has zero political skills. But I suspect he actually simply does not know about the warnings his brother received about Bin Lauden and airplanes. No one had ever told him. So he thinks only wild men would say such things and he is merely calling out nonsense. He truly has no clue he keeps poking a pile o sh*t and he keeps on poking it with a stick and telling everyone who will listen it smells like roses.

  32. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tillman: I see his point, but the data looks more random to me than it does to him. I’m inclined to agree with Neil Hudelson that the main problem Bush has may be that he’s been spending money like a sailor on shore leave with not much purchasing to show for it.

  33. Dumb Brit says:

    Sounds like his going for the Conservative vote by announcing he is slashing wages & cutting the budget by 40%, whilst expecting services to stay the same (or even improve)!

  34. Barry says:

    @Gustopher: “Given the money he has taken in, it’s really surprising he could mismanage his organization so badly he would need to do the across the board pay cut.”

    Gee, a Bush mismanages things, even given massive advantages.

  35. Barry says:

    @C. Clavin: “From a strategery stand point this might be wise for JEB!

    Neither Trump nor Carson are going to be the nominee.
    JEB! could bide his time, wait for those two circus clowns to fall off, then duke it out with Rubio…who lets face it, is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

    I agree that that’s his best hope at this point, but that’s a loooooong fall from early Summer, when his likely strategy was to stomp and intimidate everybody else out of the race before New Hampshire.

  36. Slugger says:

    @Slugger: I just read that JEB is actually going to meet with his family in Houston this weekend to discuss his campaign.
    JEB, when I said you should go home, I was being snarky and almost unacceptably sarcastic. It was not serious. It makes you look weak; presidents don’t go home to Mom when things get tough.

  37. MBunge says:

    @grumpy realist: I detested him like poison.

    Far be it from me to defend George W. Bush, but let’s remember that virtually our entire political establishment cooperated first to get him elected and then to prop him up after 9/11.