Jeb Bush staff shake-up: Sign he's losing 'invisible primary'?

Jeb Bush's presidential campaign may not be official yet, but the former Florida governor is already making some major changes in campaign staffing.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Rick Scott's Economic Growth Summit in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Tuesday, June 2.

Jeb Bush shook up his staff Monday amid reports that he and his supporters aren’t pleased with the progress, or lack thereof, of his campaign for the White House.

Yes, we know he hasn’t officially declared yet. That’s supposed to happen in Miami on June 15. But Mr. Bush has been running hard in the invisible primary stage of the GOP nomination contest. He’s been courting donors and party leaders and trying to build his image. And that hasn’t been going so well. He hasn’t lost the invisible primary, but he isn’t winning it either.

The money is indeed flowing in. But in early polls Bush is bunched together in a front-runner tier with others, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio. Republican luminaries aren’t exactly lining up to endorse him and jump on his team.

There’s no growing sense of inevitability about the Bush effort. In that sense Jeb is already behind where his brother George W. was at a similar point in 1999.

“Bush remains in a strong position for the nomination. But the fact that he hasn’t obviously scared anyone out of the race (indeed, this is one of the most crowded races in history) is pretty telling. There will be very little margin of error for him,” writes Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, on the “Mischiefs of Faction” political blog.

In this context the staff move may be telling, especially since it involves the top person in Jeb's 2016 staff. David Kochel, a veteran Iowa political strategist long assumed to be Bush’s choice for campaign manager, won’t get that job. Instead he’ll be “chief strategist,” according to the Bush folks. The campaign manager job will go to Danny Diaz, a Washington-based communications strategist.

Mr. Diaz might be the exemplar of a new generation of top campaign operatives. He’s known for moving fast in response to breaking news and for hitting opponents hard with negative research. He’s probably a better fit for a world in which social media can drive political news at the speed of Twitter.

That’s an infusion of skill the Bush team needs, according to veteran Washington Examiner political analyst Byron York. Republicans outside the Bush team groaned as they watched Jeb struggle through the multi-day flap about his halting response to the question of whether he’d have invaded Iraq, knowing what we know now.

“While a single episode won’t sink a campaign, [the Iraq incident] shook supporters’ confidence in Bush’s ability to handle future setbacks. Diaz, the hope goes, will address problems like that much more quickly and decisively,” writes Mr. York.

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