Jeb Bush’s donors aren’t sounding the alarm — yet.
The former Florida governor had been labeled the GOP’s front-runner, but polls show he’s trailing Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE by a wide margin. Even some supporters say he turned in a shaky performance at the first Republican debate earlier this month.
The son of one former president and brother of another also seems out of step with GOP voters who, at least according to polls, appear to be craving voices from outside conventional politics.
Some Bush supporters note that the rise of retired neurosurgeon Ben CarsonBen CarsonSunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant Race is not central to Rittenhouse case — but the media shout it anyway Trump endorses primary challenger to Peter Meijer in Michigan MORE and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who along with Trump are enjoying a post-debate bounce, appears to be fueled by a general discontent with establishment politicians.
“Trump is not a politician, Carly is not a politician, Carson is not a politician,” said one Bush donor from a northeastern state. “All of these people seem to be resonating with the voters.
“Look at what is happening on the other side,” the donor continued. “Not long ago, it was Hillary [Clinton] with 67 [percent support] or something and everyone else with ten. All of a sudden, you have Bernie Sanders with 28,000 people in Portland and he is six points behind her. God bless him! But there is some kind of unrest or unhappiness with the establishment.”
Bush donors have been surprised by Trump’s strength and the durability of his poll numbers, which have kept him at the top of the GOP heap for about a month despite controversy after controversy.
Still, they believe Trump will stumble in the end and that their man will be a more acceptable second choice for many Republican voters.
“In short, Jeb is right on track!” Bush backer David Beightol said in a brief email responding to questions from The Hill.
The northeastern donor noted that the field now numbers 17 prominent Republican candidates, all splitting the vote.
“How many people do we think we will have in February 2016? Will there be more than four in New Hampshire? If there are, it won’t be many more than four. So that means 13 are not going to be there anymore. You have 40-odd percent that is going to go some place.
“Does it go to The Donald? The Donald has his fans, he may get some. But I think the majority are going to go to Jeb Bush. As people leave the field, voters are going to say, ‘My number two choice is Jeb Bush.’ ”
Several Bush donors agreed that Bush had underperformed in the debate.
“Their game plan was probably not to try to hit a bunch of home runs,” one D.C.-based fundraiser said. “He didn’t need to. I think he came off as an adult, as composed, as reflective. He’s not the orator that Marco Rubio is, but then very few [people] are.”
A second D.C.-based Republican operative who is supporting Bush, and raising money for him, agreed.
“To compare him to the others with regards to his initial presentation, I think is not incredibly fair,” the operative said, alluding to the length of time Bush has been away from the heat of political battle. Bush’s last election run was his successful bid for a second term in the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. That contest took place in 2002.
Polling strongly suggests that Bush’s standing has eroded since the Aug. 6 debate.
In the last three major polls of Republican voters in Iowa taken before the debate, for instance, Bush twice placed third and was once tied for fourth. In the three major polls taken since then in the Hawkeye State, however, he has placed seventh in one, tied for seventh in another and fourth in a third.
Nationally, the last three major polls before the debate had all shown him placing second, behind Trump. In the two polls released since that clash, he was fourth and tied for second.
Most backers of Bush continue to believe it will all turn out alright. They believe that as the field is winnowed over time, the former Florida governor is far better-positioned to hoover up the voters of those who drop out than is Trump.
So long as that prediction proves true, Bush backers argue that he has comparatively little to worry about: If he simply retains his identity as a thoughtful, conservative-enough candidate with the capacity to win a general election, things will come good in the end, they suggest.
“He is an optimistic conservative, and I think that’s really important,” said the D.C.-based fundraiser. “There are conservatives on that stage who are angry conservatives — and angry conservatives don’t ultimately sell very well in this country.”