Over the weekend, the New York Times did a retrospective on George H. W. Bush and his engagement in the floundering presidential campaign of his son, Jeb. In it there is a nugget of schadenfreude — schadenfreude with just a touch of chocolate sauce:
But those who have long been in the Bush family orbit are also being forced to reckon with a party that seems to be moving on from them.
“I have no feeling for the electorate anymore,” said John H. Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor who helped the elder Mr. Bush win the 1988 primary there and went on to serve as his White House chief of staff. “It is not responding the way it used to. Their priorities are so different that if I tried to analyze it I’d be making it up.”
Mr. Sununu, like many establishment-aligned Republicans, is especially mystified by Mr. Trump’s appeal. “He supports single-payer federal health care and he loves eminent domain, and the Tea Party hates both of those things,” he said. “So explain to me how people are voting on issues.”
Sununu is out of touch in more ways than one. The cross-tabs of polls don’t show Tea Party people are the source of major support for Trump. His support is blue collar and populist. His voters are the same people who supported Ross Perot. They are frustrated and dissatisfied and angry and they want someone who understands those feelings and doesn’t call them morons for feeling that way.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza managed to pull away from the liplock he’d achieved on Hillary Clinton’s ample. cellulite infused derriere to comment:
Sununu is far from alone in GOP ranks. Think about how most establishment Republicans saw this race playing out: Jeb Bush gets in, raises a ton of money and blows everyone else out of the water. By this point in the year, most of the consultant class would have predicted that Bush would be solidly in first place in most of the early states and simply polishing his policy résumé for the general-election fight to come.
But the truth that Martin exposes via Sununu is that the old ways of doing things in the Republican Party have changed significantly since even George W. Bush was elected in 2000 — running, it’s worth noting, essentially the same campaign his younger brother is right now. Strategies — get big (in terms of organization), tout electability and inevitability, keep yourself close enough to the center that you can be viable in a general election — that once were fail-safe just don’t work in this electoral environment where the dominant sentiment of voters is anger about everything.
For a guy who is usually pig-ignorant about conservatives and the GOP this is not a bad answer.
That was precisely Bush’s strategy. Jump in, raise a ton of soft money and give the illusion of a an unstoppable juggernaut. Build a national organization focused on the general election. Let the little boys play in the primary — even brag that you were willing to ‘lose the primary’ just to let the GOP base have no doubt that you held them in contempt.
The piece that Cillizza misses, of course, is that he and his paper did not pick up on what was happening until about the time the last quarter’s fundraising reports were released because he and his bosses are nothing if not a barometer of the establishment.
While anger is a lot of it, there is also a general revulsion at the status quo. The first hint was seven-freakin-teen candidates getting in the race. Obviously, the $100M in the super PAC didn’t scare very many folks. When you get beyond that 40+% in each poll that goes for Trump-Carson-Fiorina you are still confronted with the fact that of the ‘traditional’ candidates, Bush routine comes in behind Rubio and/or Cruz. His polling numbers are stuck at about 6% which is nearly exactly what he’d have in an evenly distributed field.
The ‘old ways’ have changed for a lot of reasons. The primary among those are the development of communications outlets and channels that can’t be controlled by the establishment and aren’t beholden to the establishment.