Reading about the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s easy to forget that America considers itself a democracy. Here are a few recent headlines, chosen almost at random: “Jeb Bush’s eye-popping event: $100K per ticket,” “Hillary Fundraising Off to a Slow Start,” “Chris Christie Hopes To Move Past ‘Bridgegate’ With A National Fundraising Tour,” “Walker targets Romney donors, Jeb turf.” If you handed a Martian an iPad, told her to read 20 recent articles about the 2016 campaign, and then asked her how America chooses its presidents, she’d be more likely to mention money than votes.
This affliction is bipartisan. But in 2016, it may take a particular toll on the GOP. That’s because Jeb Bush’s extraordinary success raising money is catapulting him into the role of Republican frontrunner. And given the GOP’s tendency to nominate frontrunners, that means Republicans may well choose one of the weakest candidates in their primary field.
Jeb’s weaknesses are hiding in plain sight. They’ve just been obscured by his dazzling success in raising cash.
First, he’s not a natural politician. Jeb’s admirers consider him wonky, hard-working, and principled. But he’s also an introvert who doesn’t much like to campaign. As Peter Baker recently noted, “in political settings, he sometimes seems to eye the exit, calculating how to get from here to there with the least fuss.” Candidates who don’t enjoy politics can still win the presidency. Barack Obama, although a great orator, is something of an introvert himself. So was Jimmy Carter. But more often than not, the more gifted campaigner—whether it be Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush—prevails. Jeb, with his love of policy, distaste for politics and preference for sitting behind a computer screen rather than interacting with a crowd, has less in common temperamentally with his brother than with the guy his brother beat: Al Gore.