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Who Says the Party Has to Decide?

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Relevant to yesterday’s post is the conviction of some GOP money men that the Great Jeb! is coming:

Jeb Bush didn’t fix it. His attempted attacks on rivals have fallen flat. His $30 million in TV ads have failed to move his numbers. And now, with the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, he’s polling at a miserable 3 percent nationally.

But there’s one significant success that is keeping his campaign alive: Jeb Bush has convinced major GOP donors and supporters that the polls are wrong.

“I am like the Israelites following Moses, and I am not the only one,” said Mike Fernandez, the top donor to Bush’s super PAC, after a new CNN poll showed Bush an astounding 33 points behind the poll leader. “Unfortunately, it might not be that many of us.”

The previous two Republican cycles conformed roughly to a The Party Decides model. In 2008, there wasn’t a clear establishment frontrunner, but either McCain or Romney was acceptable to party elites, and the money men successfully spent the insurgentish Huckabee into oblivion after his win in Iowa. In 2012, following the early implosion of Pawlenty and Perry, there could. be. only. one, and the insurgentish alternatives were notably terrible candidates (I mean, the runner-up is currently statistically tied with George Pataki in a field not exactly crawling with political giants.) So an even clearer TPD scenario in a way, although the extent to which Romney struggled to win the nomination while running essentially unopposed should have been a sign of some vulnerability for the thesis. What we’re seeing this year is what happens when (as in 2008) there’s no clear establishment choice and the insurgent candidates have qualities the establishment ones lack. The TPD thesis could still hold — but it very well might not. It’s certainly not an iron law.

The almost touching faith of Jeb!’s backers also reminds me that the Romney campiagn didn’t cynically exploit the UNSKEW THE POLLS! crowd to try to create enthusiasm among supporters; it genuinely believed that the polls were SKEWED and were shocked when Romney got soundly defeated. Getting high on your own supply is central to what it means to be a Republican these days, and in this context it’s harder to see sensible elites guiding the party to its senses in the primary.

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