— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) October 19, 2015
Sasha Issenberg, at Bloomberg Politics, scored a long interview with the man who seems to stand in as JEB!’s version of Karl Rove. There has not been this much willful detachment from political reality on display since Baghdad Bob went on hiatus:
When Mike Murphy in June took the helm of his longtime friend and client Jeb Bush’s super-PAC, Right to Rise USA, he disappeared from the media, part of a concerted effort not to draw attention away from the candidate. In mid-August, Murphy—a witty narrator of presidential politics who has also guided campaigns by John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger—broke that uncharacteristic silence. “If other campaigns wish that we’re going to uncork money on Donald Trump, they’ll be disappointed,” Murphy told the Washington Post in August. “Trump is, frankly, other people’s problem.”…
The political landscape is now very different. After four months of Trump’s dominating both news coverage and polls, advisers to Bush—at least one of whom anonymously promised a “shock and awe” launch of his candidacy—find themselves where they never expected to be: struggling to reach fifth place in many national and early-state polls. Earlier this month, Murphy welcomed Bloomberg Politics’s Sasha Issenberg to his corner office in an unmarked suite in a Los Angeles office building for a candid and wide-ranging conversation about the super-PAC’s activities, plans, and the newly critical mission it has taken on: the Committee to Save Jeb…
Has the tempo of the race been different than what you had anticipated when you first developed a campaign plan?
Well, I knew it would be kind of hyper because that’s the business now. But one thing in hindsight is we got this paper crown of front-runner early that we didn’t want and I don’t think realistically we should have had. Because what happens is when the punditocracy says, “You’re the front-runner,” then they take a bunch of meaningless polls and a Donald Trump or a Kardashian or whatever jumps in and they say, “Now you’re not the front-runner.” So they put you on trial for them being wrong at the beginning. I think we’re getting a little bit of a bad rap on all that stuff but, you know, who cares? We’re going to power through it.
But the pledge of “shock and awe”—your side contributed to that front-runner designation. Things haven’t quite worked out that way.
I’m going to hunt down whoever came up with that. The bigger story was: we showed a lot of financial strength but we always said the voter strength would build slowly because we had to go tell the story. And somehow the punditocracy said, “Well, financial strength means you have to lead every poll and if you don’t you’re a loser.” I think them being wrong about that is something that we’ve been held accountable. I don’t take it too seriously because I keep saying I think the polls are completely meaningless on a national basis, but it’s irritating noise…
How has Trump’s entry changed the race?
It created a false zombie front-runner. He’s dead politically, he’ll never be president of the United States, ever. By definition I don’t think you can be a front-runner if you’re totally un-electable. I think there’s there an a-priori logic problem in that.
I assume thus far Trump has crowded out free media for some of the other candidates who could have emerged in your lane.
Yes. I think you can argue it’s been good for us in that it’s cut off oxygen to guys who can’t survive. We have an oxygen tank. I think Jeb is built from atom one to lead the positive conservative primary and I think that’s the ticket to win. Now if there’s been some huge categorical change in the party and the party is completely obsessed with a grievance candidate they can get one. You know, it’s possible: we lose 42 states, it’ll be Republican McGovern. But I think that’s unlikely. Not impossible but unlikely…
The golden nugget in this steaming pile of horse manure, as perceived by the professionals, is that JEB!’s handlers profess their candidate doesn’t have to do better than fourth place in any primaries before mid-March. Here is Jim Newell’s response, in Slate, to “The One Problem the Head of Bush’s Super PAC Can’t Solve“:
… Nowhere, between all his mockery, does he get to the heart of the matter: why people don’t like Jeb Bush right now, and how Right to Rise intends to change that…
… There will always be a fair share of bad national poll coverage. If there’s more of it this time, Murphy can blame the Republican National Committee and its media partners for pegging debate participation to national polling status. But it’s not like Bush is only doing badly in national polls that don’t matter, anyway. He’s doing poorly in polls of early states, too. Bush is doing lousy in Iowa. That’s fine: Bush is one thing and Iowa Republicans are a whole other thing. But he’s also performing lousy in New Hampshire, a state he has spent an extraordinary amount of time in and has been advertising in. He is not leading in Florida, his natural firewall, or South Carolina, the GOP establishment’s traditional firewall for their chosen representative….
Being relatively liked by human beings who vote in elections is an important first step toward winning elections. We need not pay much attention to Bush’s top-line number in national polls, but we can look to his favorability ratings to see what sort of space he has to work with. Monmouth University’s latest national poll, released [Tuesday] morning, finds Bush at 5 percent nationally. Whatever. Skip to the favorability ratings, though, and the picture somehow looks even more grim. Of the six candidates’ whose favorables were polled among Republicans, Bush is the only one underwater—at 37 to 44 percent. This is indicative of the trend, and it corresponds with what any person paying vague attention to the news has seen…
There’s only so much UNLIMITED! CORPORATE! CASH! can do, when your candidate can be slapped around by a fawning Media Village courtier like Jake Tapper…
This video clip is why the Trump 9/11 comments are going to be a new potential headache for Jeb https://t.co/00fiP1NjHJ
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 19, 2015
Dave Weigel, at the Washington Post, has an even less flattering comparison — “Jeb Bush’s allies are starting to sound like Ron Paul’s in 2012… ”
… “We only have 10 pure winner-take-all states now,” Murphy insists. “The Republican Party, we used to be the Social Darwinists: second place got you a Greyhound ticket to Palookaville. Now we’re proportional, mostly by congressional district. From Feb. 1 to March 15, we have a bunch of big states; Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina probably.”
Issenberg pushes back on Murphy a bit, and gets this remarkable exchange:
MURPHY: March 15 is the big day. On the 16th, I don’t think anybody will have a mathematical lock, but there definitely will be a very strong leading candidate.
ISSENBERG: You’re describing a scenario where a candidate who has never finished higher than third or fourth in any particular state could still be the leading candidate on March 16?
ISSENBERG: Is that a problem from a media momentum perspective that if you’re not actually winning stuff and getting the coverage that comes along with being a winner?
MURPHY: It would choke out a lot of little guys.
Now, it’s technically true that the quartet of early primary states don’t offer many delegates. When I followed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, that was one of his unspoken arguments: Alaska offered more than twice as many delegates as tiny New Hampshire. When I followed Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012, his team (including some former advisers now on trial) insisted that they were notching up delegate wins while a shiny-object-obsessed media focused on who got the most people to say a candidate’s name at non-binding caucuses.
The sages of Twitter have compared Murphy’s strategy to the one that failed Rudy Giuliani in 2008, but it looks a lot more like the one that failed Ron Paul…
Bush at 9 percent in Florida. It's almost like GOP voters don't actually want him to be president. https://t.co/e9BZBgOlbL
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 20, 2015