Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can activist conservatives stop Jeb?

By Richard Barry

We are told time and again that the activist conservative base plays a disproportionately large role choosing the Republican presidential nominee. We are also frequently told that mega-donors play an out-sized role, as well as the media who read the tea leaves in order to pronounce on who has the Big Mo.

We are told a lot of things, often by candidates or supporters who feel aggrieved by the application of undue influence of one element of electoral pressure or another.

As for the activist base, we are certainly seeing strong evidence of most GOP contenders courting more committed conservatives, so they must think there is something to this claim. We all understand that a cohesive minority can have a huge impact on any decision making process, and if these committed conservatives in the trenches in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, can set the early tone, they may call the tune, I guess.

This is likely why Jeb Bush us hoping for a long drawn out process in which his mainstream bona fides, fund raising capabilities, and credibility with the media will propel him to victory, because it certainly will not be his support among those tilting significantly to the right, at least not initially.

First the good news for Jeb, according to a recentNBC/WSJ poll:
He's in first place in the national GOP trial heat with 23% of Republican voters saying he's their first choice -- followed by Marco Rubio at 18%, Scott Walker at 14%, and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz at 11%. Also, he's greatly improved his standing with GOP voters: Back in March, they said they could see themselves supporting Bush by just a 49%-42% margin. Now? It's 70%-27% -- a significant jump, which our pollsters say they can't explain.

And the bad:

But here's a second way to look at Bush in the NBC/WSJ poll: He's struggling with conservatives, big time. Here's a fav/unfav ranking of the five 2016 Republicans we tested among just self-described conservatives:

Rubio: 41%-8% (+33)
Walker: 31%-4% (+27)
Paul: 38%-15% (+23)
Cruz: 36%-13% (+23)
Bush: 33%-28% (+5)

As First Read notes: "To put Jeb's 33%-28% fav/unfav performance with conservatives into perspective, here's Hillary's fav/unfav among liberals in the NBC/WSJ poll: 72%-15%."

That's why this matters. And it's just not conservatives. Jeb's fav/unfav among Republicans is 38%-20%, and among GOP primary voters, it's 43%-19% -- again, at or near the bottom of the five GOPers we measured.

Two things: There are a number of real options for conservative voters at this point. When compared to these options, Jeb will not do well. But, as the field thins, they'll come to him as the viable choice to beat Clinton,  which may help explain why GOP voters more generally are starting to say they could see themselves supporting Jeb. They're figuring it out.

The activist conservatives will throw their weight around until they lose to the establishment candidate, as they always do.

The second thing is that Hillary's fav/unfav numbers among liberals are what they are because she had no real competition. Liberals have already done the calculation. And, it should be noted, Mrs. Clinton will be fine on economic and social policy. It's her foreign policy that should give liberals pause, but that's another discussion.

My cynical self believes that it is no more wise for Jeb to move too far to the right to court conservatives than it is for Hillary to move to the left to court liberals. Ironically, in both cases it could push votes to the opponent. Bottom line is that Jeb should hold his ground and beat back the conservative loons in his own party.


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  • Two quick things, since I'm way behind on my reading. First, I "approve" of Clinton, even though I don't plan to vote for her in the primary. So I'm not sure her approval is just a function of the lack of competition. Regardless of how we vote, we like her. I think that was true of most Obama voters in 2008.

    Second, I've never understood why candidates look at the short-term. I remember thinking that of Kerry. It was clear he voted for the Iraq War because he was planning to run for president. But he was smart enough to know that wars generally don't stay popular for long. Of course, Jeb Bush is already an extremist. The only thing he can hope for is that he won't be covered as one. And given our postmodern media, that's a hope that is very reasonable.

    By Blogger Frank Moraes, at 10:28 PM  

  • Regardless of their traditional pandering to "social conservatives," the Republican party has nominated the choice of their rich backers in every election since Goldwater. The chance that this is going to change now is infinitesmal. The only person who has a remote chance of knocking Bush off is Scott Walker, and that is only because he is in the pockets of the Koch Brothers, who can finance his campaign all by themselves.

    By Blogger Green Eagle, at 3:29 PM  

  • I agree. It's likely Bush, Walker with an outside chance, and possibly Rubio if the other two really screw up. But Bush has really looked off balance in the early going, Walker is untested on the national stage, and I just don't know about Rubio. But I agree, if these three A-listers fail, the establishment crowd will find a substitute. Perhaps Kasich?

    By Blogger Richard K. Barry, at 4:52 PM  

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