Well it’s official; the conventional wisdom is settled. A consensus began to develop last week and crested this weekend, ending with the nearly absolute conclusion that Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy is dead. But take heart Jeb! Campaign. When conventional wisdom is this set against you with this much certainty this far ahead of Election Day, conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. None of this is to say Bush’s campaign is actually strong. Everyone can see his weaknesses, but I ridicule the notion that Bush is completely done for. His campaign is not without some significant assets, including substantial commitments from party leadership, enough money in his campaign — as well as plenty in his super PAC — and the fact that, oh by the way, Jeb Bush isn’t that bad of a candidate. Bush has not committed a colossal fatal blunder, such as running up a financial debt like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did. The bottom line, in Bush’s case, is that it is still too early to take today’s headlines and extrapolate out to the New Hampshire, South Carolina and SEC primaries.
Conventional wisdom is often wrong — not because the analysis is necessarily flawed, but because people try to settle questions prematurely. And in the case of Bush’s campaign, I think pundits are sounding the death knell too soon. It is true that his debate performances have not been good, and the idea that the way to slow Sen Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) rise would be to launch a peevish, non-sequitur attack on Rubio’s Senate attendance record was particularly weak. If Bush thought of that himself, he needs to check his improvisational instincts, and if his team is to blame, it suggests a significant deficiency in their Ideas Department. But the half-life of any single debate performance that doesn’t include a defining Perryesque “Oops” moment is not very long. Bush didn’t do well but he did not self-immolate. (In full disclosure, I worked for Jeb Bush’s father and was certainly a supporter of his brother’s campaigns, but I have no particular alliance to any Republican in 2016.)
Anyway, if conventional wisdom says Bush is dead, at least he is in good company. Conventional wisdom today suggests that the two current front-runners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, are almost certain to lose. Another former front-runner, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), was declared dead months ago — but he is still out there chipping away, staying viable, looking for an opening and getting some good reviews.
For a well-established campaign, most of what matters lies in the days and weeks ahead, not in the months that have passed. You can’t underestimate the dynamics and fluid potential of the last 18 or so days of a primary campaign. And in the case of the Bush campaign, I would guess about 70 percent of what will determine its eventual outcome lies in front of it, not behind it.
None of this is to say I think Bush will necessarily be our party’s nominee. I don’t have any idea who the nominee will be. But currently, London odds-makers place him behind only Trump and Rubio. That’s not terrible at this stage. Commentators have to comment, and it is a lot easier to see how any given candidate can lose than it is to see how one will ultimately win. But this is still the Republican Party; you can’t count Bush out.