Jeb Bush loses the money race that counts

bush grimace

Last week we reported on how the Jeb Bush campaign was shaping up to look like Scott Walker’s. Though his campaign raised $13.4M in the previous quarter, he finished up with $10.3M indicating he spent $1.1M more than he brought in. (Keep this number in mind as we go along.) In response, Bush has ordered salaries slashed and major cut back in expenditures.

Today National Review takes a deeper look at the numbers and finds the rot is even deeper than it seems at first glance.

To win the GOP primary and, more important, the general election, a candidate must be able to play to both grassroots supporters and the major donors. Since the dawn of the era of Internet campaigns, beginning in the 2000 election, no candidate in either party who was not, at this point in the election cycle, in the top two in grassroots fundraising has won the nomination, nor has any candidate outside the top three in major-donor funding.

Candidates who cannot win the support of major donors ultimately lack the qualities to be competitive in a general election. Influential votes and voices matter, and not just for their money. This is why candidates such as Bernie Sanders are extremely unlikely to be president, no matter how much money they raise.

Conversely, candidates whom big donors love but who do not excite the base can sometimes be lifted by the establishment to the nomination but have no hope in the general election. This why candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, despite his enormous major-donor fundraising totals, went absolutely nowhere in the GOP primaries. Ultimately, it is candidates who — e.g., Obama and George W. Bush — excite the grassroots and do well with major donors who win.

  • Jeb Bush has almost no chance of being the GOP nominee, owing to a near-complete lack of support from the GOP’s rank-and-file donors.

Bingo!

The point I’ve been making on and off line since this election season started is that though Bush looks great on paper his real Achilles heel is that you can’t find anyone who wants to vote for him. While fat cat donations are a necessary condition for success, they are not a sufficient condition. Ultimately, that money has to convince the GOP base voter and the independent to troop into the voting booth and cast a ballot for Jeb Bush. I don’t think a measurable number of those people exist, certainly not enough to win a primary election and an impossibly small number to win a general election.

The article points out how the landscape has changed for fundraising this election cycle where an energized GOP electorate has contributed more money by small donors than the presidential elections of 2000 through 2012 pulled in combined:

Below are the small-donor (under $200) donations by election cycle, through the third quarter of each year preceding the election.

2016: $61.3 million

2012: $16.7 million

2008: 28.4 million

2004: $9 million

2000: $13.9 million

So where is this money going?

Below are the ratios between big-donor (more than $2,000) and small-donor (less than $2,000) amounts raised for candidates, 2000–2016, through the third quarter of the year preceding the general election:

2016 Clinton 3:1, Sanders 1:33

Carson 1:11.5, Cruz 1:1.6, Bush 15:1, Rubio 1.7:1, Fiorina 1:2.5, Trump 1:6.5

2012 Romney 7:1 Obama 1:3

2008 McCain 1.7:1 Obama 1.3:1

2004 Bush 6.2:1 Kerry 5.4:1

2000 Bush 12:1 Gore 6:1

Naturally, Bush supporters will point to 2000 where Bush big dollar contributions outnumbered Gore’s by 2:1.

Jeb devotees examining this data might want to point to the year 2000, when George W. Bush at this point in the campaign had an approximately 12:1 ratio of large- to small-donor money. But using just this ratio (which Jeb exceeds) masks some important points. First, George W. Bush had locked up the big donors at this point in 2000. He had 80 percent of major-donor dollars, making him the clear choice of the GOP’s donor class. Jeb gets just 35 percent of big-donor dollars. The donor class is split.

Second, with 19 percent of the small-dollar total, George W. Bush essentially was tied for first among a divided field of small-dollar donors. In contrast, Jeb has just 2.3 percent of small-dollar contributions in the GOP field, ranking ninth.

And George W. Bush’s solid but unspectacular showing among small donors looks dramatically different when mid-dollar donations, $200 to $999, are considered. Amounts less than $1,000 come typically from slightly more-prosperous grassroots donors. George W. Bush crushed the competition in this category, taking 64 percent of the mid-dollar money in the GOP field (and raising more of it than Gore and Bradley, combined, managed on the Democratic side). By contrast, Jeb takes only 7 percent of that total in the GOP field today and ranks sixth. Even Romney in 2012 was a competitive second in the small- and medium-grassroots donor categories to Ron Paul, who had famously fanatical small donors. Romney achieved this while, like George W. Bush, winning an overwhelming victory among large donors.

By contrast, Jeb takes only 7 percent of that total in the GOP field today and ranks sixth. Even Romney in 2012 was a competitive second in the small- and medium-grassroots donor categories to Ron Paul, who had famously fanatical small donors. Romney achieved this while, like George W. Bush, winning an overwhelming victory among large donors.

How does Jeb Bush looke when compared to the rest of the field? Well, the words “fringe candidate” come to mind:

Jeb raised only three times as much from small donors as did Lawrence Lessig, the semi-obscure Harvard professor, running as a Democrat, who was too fringey to be invited to a debate that featured Lincoln Chaffee, who had only 29 itemized donors through the third quarter of 2011. And Jeb’s total amount, $4.2 million, raised from donations under $2,000 is just $1 million more than the total fundraising of [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ], who is polling at 0 percent. Jeb’s supporters are maxed out, and he has no grassroots support to grow new ones.

And this loops back to the final point. Most of the people who have donated to Jeb Bush are maxed out until the general election campaign starts. They can encourage friends and relatives to give but they can’t, themselves, contribute. As the numbers show, Bush has a third of big donors, so far. To raise more hard money he has to unlock the pockets of more big donors. Where do they come from? More importantly, there is nothing about the Bush campaign now that says anything but ‘flopsweat.’

Back in 1805, the Britain was living in daily fear of a French invasion. The First Lord of the Admiralty, John Jervis, Lord Saint Vincent, addressed a skittish British Parliament. “I don’t say the French can’t come,” he said. “I only say they can’t come by sea.” The same applies to Bush. I don’t say Bush can’t become president. I only say he can’t become president by people voting for him.