Why Jeb Matters -- what his campaign meant

All the money in the world couldn't convey why he was even running.

For all the progressive whiners reading this, the dismal failure of the Jeb Bush campaign refutes your oft-repeated proposition that money in politics is everything. The main problem with Big Government is simply that government is Big, because the interventionist ideology of contemporary liberals prevails. Thus, the special interests and lobbyists and crony capitalism are not causes, but consequences of government gone wild, with its reckless disregard for constitutional limits.

Accordingly, Citizens United does not, for practical reasons, need to be repealed, and it surely celebrates the United States Constitution. This U.S. Supreme Court decision supported the constitutionality of free speech (yes, as Antonin Scalia, whose funeral along with Margaret Thatcher's President Obama avoided, eloquently explained, people spend money on speech).

How candidates project themselves in (free) media is more important than in their (paid) media. In my own state of California, Mitt Romney's campaign operatives in 2010 spent $180 million on Meg Whitman's losing campaign for governor. Money cannot buy you love, or electoral success.

And in the Internet age, Donald Trump, even more than others, has shown the importance of, say, Twitter. And Bernie Sanders has shown the vast sums that can be raised quickly, and at almost no cost, over the Internet. In the high-tech edge of an unbounded news cycle, interested voters make up their mind without regard to often mediocre and always repetitive 30-second spots churned for advertising commissions. Yes, money in campaigns remains dispositive, but not conclusive.

This article should be required reading for the Donor Class. That's because the Jeb Bush fiasco not only refutes the need to quash Citizens United, or amend the Constitution to overrule it, but the campaign's meltdown is a textbook case of what's wrong with campaigns, the Republican Establishment, and the politically clueless Super Rich. For six months or more, Jeb Bush has been a prop for Donald Trump to help Trump take on all three.

The wealthy Mel Sembler, who served honorably as George H.W. Bush's Ambassador to Italy and served on the board of Jeb's super PAC, was not much of a fiduciary for Jeb. Mr. Sembler will not admit that he and his very wealthy friends were taken to the cleaners. Probably speaking for his unbowed Big Money colleagues, he insists, "We did the best we could in deploying of resources....The timing was not right for Jeb." You fool, if you ran your business this way, you would have no money to waste on politics. That $100 million-plus squandered on Jeb's nonstarter campaign could have been competently spread later this year over many contested Senate and House races. Even then money in politics is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition, to win.

Indeed, part of Donald Trump's pitch is that he, a quintessential successful businessman, runs an optimal, cost-effective campaign. And Mr. Trump is right: his cost-per-vote is so much lower than that of Jeb, Cruz, Rubio, and so many others. The Bush campaign was a top-down, top-heavy behemoth like the Federal government. In debates Jeb unfortunately became a straight man for Trump, and allowed his campaign to become an object of ridicule.

If the billionaires who back the candidates applied the same standard to campaigns that they applied to their own successful business ventures, they might not get involved. Certainly the "business plan" that Mr. Sembler approved for the Bush campaign's SuperPAC lacked the most fundamental prerequisite -- a viable and relevant candidate with a reason to be running. If there were any doubt that the plan itself was flawed, consider that as more and more money was spent, Bush dropped precipitously. How could that be?

There was no evidence that the television ad campaign was having any effect. In a solid political campaign, you pretest possible ads in focus groups, or you test ads discretely within a single media market -- testing before and after a "flight" of ads. For Bush, as in the case of Meg Whitman, the campaign doubled down on ads that were not working. Why? Both the Whitman campaign and Bush campaign had plenty of money for research. It turns out, for example, that Whitman in her race for governor spent an astounding $2 million on polls and focus groups.

Everything the main Bush backers say is known now -- in retrospect -- was known at the start of the Bush campaign, or over last summer. Anecdotal evidence was there last year -- earlier in the year, even before Jeb formally announced, and formal research -- focus groups and surveys --later indicated why Bush was not moving forward but was moving backward. The inherent reasons against Jeb would not disappear.

One might ask, only half in jest, what would have happened if the Bush campaign (mainly the SuperPAC) spent absolutely nothing on television ads. After all, Bush was approaching placebo level. Tracking surveys during the costly Bush debacle showed the campaign strategy, such as it was, was not succeeding. In business, when your marketing plan is failing, when your ads are not working, you review and revamp the marketing plan, you create new ads. You don't double down on a flawed strategy or buy more air time for ads that don't work. Tracking surveys would have shown the campaign was not working. Were they taken? Why were their findings ignored?

Why won't Mr. Sembler and the others admit they drank the Kool-Aid and bought into a candidacy and campaign that made no sense -- with or without Mr Trump in the race? Instead they claim the mood of the country explains the failure of a campaign that never should have existed.

"Times have changed, the country has changed, the electorate has changed," Sembler, who is a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the Tampa Bay Times. "i don't understand our country anymore." The outrage of voters is real and is a factor in 2016. But it was not subtle but evident in polling and focus groups. Does Sembler watch television? Does he talk to cab drivers? Waiters or waitresses?

And all this discussion does not detract from the lack of a rationale for Jeb Bush to have run for president. There was never any reason for the son of a president, the brother of another president, to run for president -- there was no groundswell of support except among Mr. Sembler's wealthy colleagues and the Republican Establishment.

And, therefore this question is for Mr. Sembler, an honorable and well-intentioned man, and for the other fat cats: If the timing was not right, why did Jeb run? Was it because The Establishment wanted a third President Bush, for another round of cabinet, sub-cabinet, and commission appointments, status ambassadorships, and other patronage and trade deals? All this is not to take away from Bush as an intelligent and capable man who was a solid governor in Florida. He is a class act. We knew all this before Jeb announced, but no one except the insiders cared.

Jeb's decision to run, coupled with his "shock and awe" fundraising, validated, if not caused, Mitt Romney's likely decision not to run but had zero effect on the other candidates, including Jeb's rebellious protégé Marco Rubio. Jeb's inner circle naively thought Rubio would not run, as if he were a corporate vice president waiting for his turn as corporate CEO, and they underestimated the appeal of the glib Rubio. Say what you will, Rubio had a 21st century spiel. Nor did Jeb's team grasp that Rubio running in itself was a putdown of Jeb, and Jeb's clumsy attack on Rubio in a debate backfired.

Most importantly, the early obsession of Jeb's team on money, to the exclusion of the fundamental question of candidacy, necessarily overlooked the obvious: unlike Marco (the new generation), there simply was no story line for Jeb to run.

Throughout Jeb's ordeal -- and that's what his campaign was -- I noted many times that Jeb was schizoid, running as "Jeb!" to avoid his last name, and simultaneously, even gratuitously, invoking his father and brother, and later his mother, at every turn. At the outset he was "his own man" and yet immediately surrounded himself with Bush has-beens, including octogenarian James Baker. Instead, Jeb at least could have surrounded himself with under age-45 policy advisers and focused on New Age issues.

"My dad is the greatest man alive" sounded like Jeb was giving a Bar Mitzvah speech, but he is neither thirteen nor Jewish. Jeb complaining that Trump attacked his brother and his mother only dug a deeper hole for a candidacy artificially created by Big Money. Even if Trump never ran, there was no pathway for Jeb to be nominated. No one around Jeb will concede this point, because such a concession goes to the troublesome core of Jeb's problematic candidacy.

Jeb Bush finally, without suspense, suspended his campaign Saturday, following the predictable South Carolina results, but this was perhaps the most anti-climactic move in recent political history. I could have written the future postmortem when Jeb announced; even back then, I had predicted his campaign was inherently doomed. Already by last June, Jeb had raised many tens of millions, with so much more in the pipeline; his mega-rich donors, disputing my prognosis, assured me that, with vast sums en route and recycled political Beltway consultants and veteran Bush staff members from the Beltway's Central Casting, Jeb would be the last man standing.

My prescience had nothing to do with Donald Trump, who announced a couple of days after Jeb. For me it was always: Why is Jeb running? Now, once Jeb is out of the race, Trump becomes their convenient explanation for an embarrassment of riches that spent most of the $150 million raised. Only after Meg Whitman lost in her 2010 race for governor of California, did her team then claim victory was always impossible (reality check: she could have won).

"It would be difficult for any solutions-oriented conservative to tackle Trump in this environment, much less one who was seen as having been so much a part of the establishment," observed Jeb's "chief strategist" Sally Bradshaw to the Washington Post. You know a campaign is in trouble when there is a senior strategist who doesn't speak English ("solutions-oriented conservative"), amidst untold other strategists.

Mike Murphy was the "chief strategist" for Bush's super PAC, Right to Rise. And what does my son or daughter have a "right to rise" to? "Our theory was to dominate the establishment lane," Murphy, a competent ad-maker, deadpanned. "The problem was a huge anti-establishment wave. The establishment lane was smaller than we thought it would be." Perhaps the super PAC should have been called, accurately, "Establishment Lane." The only thing missing here is a Diamond Lane for two or more candidates driving in the same car.

If the existence of Trump explains the Jeb debacle, then why was Jeb's massive campaign budget deployed to attack others, especially Marco Rubio? To some of Jeb's major donors, it was a "rule or ruin" spoiler approach. If Jeb can't win, why should Marco?

More the point, with all the polling and focus groups done by Jeb's campaign and other campaigns, how could the "anti-establishment wave" (that Jeb's "strategists" now cite as alibi) be a surprise, or even hidden. The Jeb ad campaigns consistently had little effect, yet they kept running the ads that didn't connect. It almost seemed as if this campaign, like so many others, was initially donor driven (to have the proverbial "dog in this race") and then vendor driven ("we have the money, spend it"). The Washington Post analysis generously claims the Bush team "miscalculated" the role of television commercials in 2016. But we know from years back that in a Republican primary a candidate's persona on television news and broadcast interviews, and in debates, can trump (an apt pun) the impact of television ads. Voters are not stupid, they know ads are paid for, compared to the authenticity of the candidate talking in news or debate context.

The Post article says Jeb's advisers expected Republican voters to "flock" to him when they learned about his eight-year record as Florida governor. Really? But since he left public office in 2007, Jeb has not been visible, no public persona, and no preparation to run. With all the time in the world to prepare, he entered the race with bad posture, nerdy glasses (recently, finally contact lenses), and no prepared responses for the most obvious questions, such as whether he ("Here's the deal") would have gone into Iraq.

And we now learn that Jeb's own polling four months ago confirmed what I knew intuitively, that two-thirds of Republican voters were down on a Bush dynasty. There was widely known Bush fatigue well before he announced. Therefore, why would Jeb's record matter? There was no reason to make this campaign, or a November campaign, a referendum on George W. Bush's presidency. That already happened eight years ago.

A candidate needs a reason to run, the campaign needs a rationale, a narrative, a storyline, and whatever you call it. We know that Jeb's mother, the venerable Barbara Bush, initially opposed the candidacy. It was never flattering for Jeb that he reconsidered, only after the matriarch did. "Unless he engages in public introspection atypical of his clan," wrote Todd Purdum in Vanity Fair, "we may never know what combination of sibling rivalry and public-spiritedness impelled Bush to embark upon a bruising, even humiliating, campaign."

There never was sentiment for a third Bush president, except among the Beltway lobbyists who sought influence and patronage. No polls or focus groups contradicted what I knew to be the case from my own conversations with friends, relatives, and people I did not even know -- there was, there is, Bush fatigue. Did Jeb's team keep their own research findings from the mega-bucks donors? And in a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the false Bill Clinton legacy (a peace and prosperity not because of, but despite, President Clinton) would prevail over the mainstream media's negatively spun George W. Bush legacy (an unpopular war and financial meltdown).

In short, after Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, there was no support for a Bush dynasty. In contrast, years after President John F. Kennedy and then his brother, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated, there was enthusiasm for another brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy to run for president. But Teddy's campaign collapsed in a single sound bite, when CBS anchor Roger Mudd asked, "Why are you running?" Teddy was incoherent, and though Mudd did not grasp the significance, the Kennedy campaign disintegrated in that moment. So many times, when a candidate can't tell me why he is running, I say, don't run.

The whole Jeb campaign glossed over a plausible raison d'état, especially as he described himself as best qualified to be "commander in chief." Like the other Republicans on the debate stage (except for relatively insignificant Lindsey Graham), Jeb did not serve in the military. And Jeb seemed to lack the command presence of, say, a Donald Trump. In fact, the nicer Jeb seemed, the weaker he appeared, as Trump caricatured him. A workaholic as governor, Jeb was easily dismissed by Trump as "low-energy," because in the first few debates Jeb seemed like he didn't want to be there. The origins of this perceived lethargy lay, then, in Jeb's illusory, if not contrived, candidacy that Sembler and the Fat Cats thought money could overcome.

Now the Establishment Money moves to Marco Rubio. Take the money, Marco, but run away from these people.

As I write this, Bob Dole has endorsed you. Not a good sign.

This appeared earlier in The American Spectator