Can Jeb 'Fix It' or is it too late?
Amid sagging poll numbers, Jeb Bush's campaign has pressed the reset button. Can he mount a comeback?
After a series of lackluster debate performances, anemic poll numbers, skittish donors, and "low-energy" taunts from rival Donald Trump, it's no wonder the press is already circling Jeb Bush's campaign like vultures, writing "autopsies" of "2016's most overhyped campaign."
If he's not politically dead, his campaign is on life support according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, which has the former Florida governor at just 4 percent – a statistical tie with Rick Santorum, Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina. That's down six points in six weeks, and his worst performance in any national poll so far.
He's got the highest unfavorability rating in the field (58 percent) – worse than both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton.
It's certainly not what most political observers expected, that a candidate of Bush's stature – an establishment favorite, a fundraising powerhouse, and a former governor with a presidential father and brother – would tank so badly.
So badly that he's been forced to explain that he's not planning to quit the race.
Now his campaign is working to keep the vultures at bay.
"FYI political press corps. Jeb's going to have a few weeks of bad polls," campaign communications director Tim Miller tweeted Monday. "Comebacks take time, we recognize and are prepared for that."
But is a comeback possible? After enduring a long summer of bad press and sagging poll numbers, Mrs. Clinton appears to have mounted a convincing comeback, landing a strong debate performance, making it through a critical Benghazi hearing relatively unscathed, and climbing in the polls. Of course, her poll numbers never sank as low as Jeb's, and the Democratic field is far thinner than the GOP's.
For now, Jeb is trying. His campaign has pressed the reset button with a new campaign slogan introduced late last week, "Jeb Can Fix It." (The slogan is a reference to the nation's problems, not his campaign's, though that hasn't stopped social media mockery.)
He's touring the early-voting states of Florida, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, striking a sunny, optimistic tone, and focusing on his accomplishments and what sets him apart from his rivals.
His campaign put together a PowerPoint slideshow in October, which was later leaked to the press, full of reasons why he could come back. Among them, that press obsession and predictions are moot, that the race is still fluid because "voters have A.D.D.," and that cash – which Jeb still has plenty of – matters.
Not everyone is convinced his comeback will work.
“They keep trying to re-calibrate and reset and start over,” a Bush fundraiser told The Washington Post. “I think you get one or two of those. They are at like number three.”
Still, we're a long way off from 2016. As The Christian Science Monitor pointed out in an earlier piece, at this point in the GOP race in 2007, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was leading the polls, and in 2011, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was leading. Ultimately, the nominees were Senator McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, respectively – both establishment favorites.
Which is why Ed Rogers, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns, thinks Bush isn't dead. "When conventional wisdom is this set against you with this much certainty this far ahead of Election Day, conventional wisdom is almost always wrong," he wrote in an op-ed in the Post. "I think pundits are sounding the death knell too soon."