Frustration inside Bush world has begun to spill into open view, with even the most outspoken family loyalists admitting it may soon be time to move on.
With the New Hampshire primary just days away and polls showing him still trailing Marco Rubio, there is an increasing sense that Jeb Bush is running out of time to demonstrate strength.
Many donors and influential supporters, bound by a deep and longstanding connection to the patrician clan, say they will remain with Bush no matter what. Yet others, deeply distressed by the rise of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and eager for the Republican Party to rally around a mainstream candidate with viability, say they have come to terms with Bush’s long odds and the possibility they will eventually get behind someone else.
“I acknowledge reality. There’s going to be three or four candidates remaining after New Hampshire,” said former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, a Jeb Bush adviser who also worked on George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns. “I think the field is going to narrow pretty quickly. We’ll see what happens in South Carolina, and from there you can see the dynamic starting to winnow the field pretty quickly.”
While Weber said he would remain with Bush as long as he was in the race, others said they may soon head for the exits. Barring a strong showing, they said, Wednesday could be a day of deep reflection for them.
“If he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire, I think he needs to think long and hard about what he wants to do,” said one top Bush fundraiser who played a key role in his brother’s administration.
Another high profile Bush financial backer, who has also been close to the family for years, said most of Bush’s donors would give him until the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20. “That’s when they say, ‘Enough.’”
There is still some reason for optimism. If recent polls are to be believed, Bush has climbed to within striking distance of second place, putting him in a head-to-head competition with his chief rival, Rubio. And he might have more upside after Saturday night, when Bush emerged relatively unscathed from the GOP debate while Rubio stumbled badly under a barrage of attacks, largely from Chris Christie.
Yet Bush’s top aides are still struggling to keep restless supporters in line. On Thursday, three days after the former governor barely registered in the Iowa caucuses, the pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise held a conference call with top donors to outline the path forward. At one point, Mike Murphy, a longtime top Bush adviser who oversees Right to Rise, was pressed by a donor on why the super PAC’s substantial spending had yet to improve the former governor’s poll numbers.
SOURCE: ALEX ISENSTADT