After finishing fourth in South Carolina (results), 14 points behind Ted Cruz and just 0.2 points ahead of John Kasich, Jeb Bush has finally thrown in the towel.
This confirms what I said in May 2015:
It’s early in the campaign, so it is possible Bush will recalibrate and improve his performance, but, knowing what we know now, Jeb Bush isn’t likely to win the presidency.
Since leading the polls for the first half of 2015, Bush has struggled ever since Donald Trump entered the race on June 16, falling from 17 percent in the Real Clear Politics average on July 15, 2015 to 12 percent two months later and on a straight shot downhill until settling around 4-5 percent in December, despite having had well over $100 million injected into his super PAC.
Trump’s entrance into the race will be blamed by many for Bush’s loss, but the fact that Bush struggled so mightily in the face of Trump’s fire was really just the symptom of a bigger problem: Bush was never a skilled campaigner. It was something that was evident at least a month before Trump’s announcement (as my prediction suggests).
This is also why even in December 2014, I called Bush “a bipartisan punching bag.” Indeed, Bush took hits from white nationalist Trump as well as more even-keeled conservative Marco Rubio (who finished second in South Carolina). Rubio’s super PAC called Bush’s campaign a “train wreck,” and Rubio expertly deflated Bush’s attack on his voting attendance record on stage, another moment that analysts picked as a failing point for Bush.
What prompted me to call out Bush’s poor campaigning in May was his week-long stumble on the Iraq War question:
It’s safe to say “Bush defends decision to invade Iraq” wasn’t the headline Jeb Bush wanted in the papers last week.
Bush didn’t vote for the Iraq War in the Senate like Hillary Clinton did. He doesn’t have to defend that decision. But he seems to be more interested in defending his brother’s legacy than doing what it takes to win the election.
[T]he question will impact Bush’s viability as a candidate because candidates are evaluated on their ability to handle media relations. The primary campaign is just as much about establishing that you will be able to challenge the opposing party’s candidate effectively as it is about establishing that you would make the best president.
So it all came full circle, when Trump attacked the Bush family over the Iraq War in the final debate Jeb participated in, but by then it was too late for the attack to either end his campaign or allow him to save it. It has already been heading for this conclusion for months.
Original photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore, edited by Mitchell Blatt.