It's not really news anymore when a poll finds former Florida governor Jeb Bush well shy of "front-runner" status. The best-funded of the Republican establishment candidates has struggled for months and never achieved the sort of advantage that Mitt Romney, John McCain or George W. Bush did in the years before they became the party's nominee.
Still, the new WMUR/CNN poll out of New Hampshire -- which has Jeb Bush tied for 5th place with John Kasich, well behind Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, and just behind Ben Carson and Marco Rubio -- suggests that the months of weak numbers have created a voter impression that badly undercuts Bush. In July, the last time this poll was conducted, Bush pulled 16 percent of the state's Republican voters. More than twice as many, 37 percent, nonetheless said that Bush had "the best chance of winning in the general election next November."
In Thursday's poll, Bush has fallen to 7 percent in a ballot test. He's fallen even further on the "best chance of winning" measure. Now, only 16 percent of voters say he's the most electable Republican, while 27 percent say that of Trump.
You could spin this all sorts of ways. None of the remaining candidates -- no, not even Jim Gilmore -- crack into double digits on the electability question. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has told countless crowds that his message of a broader, more diverse, less law-and-order crazed GOP can win, and his reward is only 2 percent of Republicans calling him their most electable candidate.
The problem is that electability was really baked into the Bush argument, in a way he has never fulfilled. Last year, as he built out his exploratory committee, Bush talked about "losing the primary to win the general," a way of saying that he'd appeal to the voters Mitt Romney lost instead of swinging too far right. It was similar to the pitch George W. Bush made in 1999, telling Republicans that a "compassionate conservative" who'd just led landslide wins in Texas could bring back the Democrats and independents lost by the Newt Gingrich-era party.
Jeb Bush was never as credible saying that as his brother had been. Polling in 1999 showed George W. Bush with monumental leads over likely Democratic nominee Al Gore. No polling in 2015 has showed Jeb Bush with similar support. Indeed, he's often polled worse against Hillary Clinton -- in a theoretical battle of dynasties -- than lesser-known Republicans. In this week's Quinnipiac poll, which inaugurated another round of the Democratic parlor game Everybody Panic, the badly weakened Clinton trailed former neurosurgeon Ben Carson by 7 points, and Bush by just 2, comparable to her one-point deficit against Carly Fiorina.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin was among the first to point out how badly Bush would suffer if Republicans didn't think he was any more electable than their "insurgent" candidates. The only good news? Well, "electability" isn't everything in a Republican primary.