South Carolina was supposed to be an opportunity to turn things around in the Jeb Bush campaign. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that the Palmetto State was a last ditch effort to keep things alive.
There was a Politico report last week that said Bush staffers were already calling about other jobs. This was before Saturday's decision. When did this campaign really come to an end?
I think it became clear towards the last few days of the South Carolina primary that things were not going well. Gov. Bush had sought the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and she didn't give it to him. She gave it to Marco Rubio instead, and that was a real blow to the campaign. Not all endorsements matter, but this is one that really got some South Carolina voters to take a look at Rubio again and you could see the poll numbers which had already stagnated for Bush in South Carolina start to dip and start to rise for Rubio. And so there was a real sense of frustration from Bush himself on the campaign trail and also from his staff that they just weren't climbing anymore. And that's what I think, you know, you saw people starting to the exits even though they had talked about plans for the Nevada caucuses coming up on Tuesday. It really was all going to hang on South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gave her support to Marco Rubio, but how much did Bush really need that vote? Would that have helped him get a second or third place finish on Saturday?
I'm not sure it would have. I mean he did not get a big bump from getting, you know, fourth place in New Hampshire. That's not high enough really to see much of a boost. He needed to kind of hang in there with Rubio or do better than him and certainly try to consolidate some of the establishment mainstream Republican support. And he didn't do that and it was pretty clear from seeing the results on Saturday night that there was a three-man kind of race happening between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and everybody else was far behind now. John Kasich and Ben Carson remained in the race, but Bush bowed out.
Bush brought his brother and his mother out in South Carolina, a state where his brother and his father won in their bids for the White House. But why do you think Jeb Bush wasn't connecting with South Carolina voters considering his last name?
I think it's not the Republican Party of the Bushes anymore. I mean, this is really the fundamental question of the Jeb Bush candidacy -- was he the right man at the right time because it seems like he was the wrong man at the wrong time. The Republican Party has moved to the right. It is much further to the right than it was when George W. Bush was first elected - certainly much more to the right than when George H.W. Bush was elected. And so to try to run that same kind of race, which is what Jeb Bush tried to do, with some kind of old school endorsements and policy papers is just not where the Republican electorate is right now. I mean, they are angry and they are looking for someone to channel that anger and the Bushes are known for their kind of genteel demeanor and a very dignified way to approach politics, you know, the dirty politics of South Carolina notwithstanding. And this was just not the right fit. It was a mismatch not just in South Carolina but I would say for the 2016 election cycle in general.
Jeb's super PAC, ‘Right to Rise’, reported that it raised $378,000 in January. Still it had millions in reserve. If the money is there, why stop campaigning now?
Well, the money is in the Super-PAC and one of the things that this election has showed us is that you cannot substitute a Super-PAC for a campaign. A campaign is limited in how much money it can get from each donor. And it forces good candidates to really expand their donor base and have some sort of grassroots support. If you don't have that there's only so many times you can tap your small base of folks to give you money because, you know, there's a limit, and so you can have unlimited donations to your Super-PAC but your Super-PAC can't pay your campaign staff and can't organize your campaign travel and it can pay for TV advertising, but we have seen no strong effect this year from TV advertising in the campaign.
Talking about all that money within the super PAC, what happens to that money?
Well there are several options for where it goes. The Super-PAC has suspended its operations so it won't be raising any more money. They have to, you know, pay any remaining bills that come due. And then there are various options including returning the money to the donors and that’s not typically what campaigns do.
Do you think the nominee will be locked up before the convention in Cleveland?
I tend not to believe that there will be a contested convention, and I find that it's usually eager political reporters like myself hoping for something really interesting to happen. Having said that, the longer the field remains divided, the more likely that scenario is, but I think we will have a much better picture after Super Tuesday which is March 1. And then after the winner-take all primaries begin on the 15th. That includes the Florida primary and the Ohio primary, because then the big numbers of delegates are going to start getting allocated, and by then we'll see if we think that Trump can really run away with it or somebody can challenge him.
And you talk about this being contested. The talk with a lot of people is that this there could be a brokered convention and that's when no candidate secures the necessary majority of delegates. And then after that you're talking about a lot of political horse trading and re-vote. Are you saying there are no chance that there could be a brokered convention?
Well, I don't think anyone can say there's no chance. I mean there's always a chance, but I think it's a little bit too early to tell just because if somebody starts getting on a roll of winning these big states like Florida that has 99 delegates up for grabs on the Republican side then there's a chance that somebody could just, you know, break through. There's still, you know, a long a long road ahead.
So if there is a brokered convention do you see any chance whatsoever that Jeb Bush comes back into the fray?
I don't think so, no. I think that the chances of a contested convention are very low and if there is one I would imagine that they would just pick out of the candidates who are left in the contest. I mean, Bush was very classy in the way he left the race saying that it is bigger than any one man, than any one candidate; this is more important to think about the country and the presidency than about egos and ambition. So I think he took his leave and that it's probably for good.
Bush is 62 years old, do you think in four years he comes back for another run much like he did for governor?
Well, I think he always used the sign, when he won in 1998 and 2002. I would be surprised if he came back, I mean, if the party stays on the course that it is I don't think it's going to revert to the kind of party that elected Jeb Bush in 1998 in 2002 or that elected his brother. That is really the fundamental shift that we have seen with this campaign and that was laid bare with his candidacy, which is the Republican Party is in a fundamentally different place and I doubt that it would return to what it was, you know, in four years.