Matthew Dowd served as George W. Bush's chief strategist for the Texas governor's successful 2000 presidential bid and his 2004 reelection race. While Dowd keeps to the sidelines of presidential politics these days — he's the chief political analyst for ABC News — he remains a thoughtful observer of his former party (he describes himself as "vehement independent") largely via his Twitter feed. I reached out to Dowd to get his take on Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and the broader fight for the heart and soul of the GOP in 2016. Our conversation — conducted via e-mail and edited only for flow — is below.

FIX: You recently tweeted this: "Let's restore conservative values to politics: respect for others, compassion, truth, courage, accountability, humility. That's conservative.”  Do you not think those traits are being shown in the 2016 race? If not, why not?

Matthew Dowd: I think there is way too much mean-spiritedness, bullying, name-calling, ego and appeals to fear in this election cycle.  Those aren't conservative values, they are human vices.  It is time to return to the old-fashioned values we were all raised as children to practice personally, and in our politics.  

FIX: You have tweeted and written that the GOP establishment still doesn’t seem to get that Donald Trump might be their nominee. What explains that disconnect between the party’s base (a part of which clearly loves Trump) and the major donor/consultant class?

Dowd: In the aftermath of the 2012 loss by Romney, the party went about to fix what they perceived as a problem.  They then proceeded to launch a series of process fixes (too many debates, primary calendar, convention timing), and didn't address the fundamental issue which involved their people.  Republican voters have taken over the campus from the administration, and the tipping point is this year with the support for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, etc.  And the consultant/donor class is still operating in a time gone by and running campaigns in old way.  They are container ships in a time of Somali pirates.  

FIX:  You famously helped get Jeb Bush’s older brother elected (and reelected president).  Assess how the younger sibling has run so far. Is this the campaign you expected Jeb to run? If not, why not? And what can he change or do to alter his downward trajectory in the race?

Dowd: I had always doubted Jeb's ability to run an effective campaign in this environment for a few reasons: He is not as good of a retail politician as his brother, he has been away from elective office for too long, and times have changed. The voters were going to look for anyone other than an establishment pol with a dynastic last name, and the whole premise of their campaign was based around fundraising [while] today money matters way less. While there is an outside shot he can surface sometime next year, the odds are incredibly low and it will take the five candidates ahead of him falling apart.  

FIX: This was your assessment of the Republicans Hillary Clinton would most want to run against: "Trump, Jeb, Carson, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio.” Jeb in second surprised me.  Explain.

Dowd: Taking a look at Jeb's standing in a general election, the only candidate more unelectable is Trump.  Jeb's unfavorables are higher than his favorables, the conservative base won't turn out for him, independents want change and the Bush name won't help him with that. And, Hillary Clinton's weaknesses are actually bolstered by Jeb running (two insiders with dynastic names).

FIX: Fast forward to March 1. What does the Republican field look like? And where does the race — assuming it’s still happening — go from there?

Dowd: My suspicion by March 1 [is that] this race is going to be four candidates: Trump, Cruz, Marco Rubio, and one more (John Kasich, Chris Christie?).  And that is when debates and the give-and-take really start to get interesting. Who performs well on stage, and who can contrast effectively with the others [matters more.] Since it will be totally contingent on performance, I have no idea at this point in time who will rise to the occasion.