Talk to enough Republican insiders about the presidential primary field, and you'll get a common sentiment when it comes to Jeb Bush. Most strategists agree that Bush has to overcome serious hurdles to win the nomination, but they say he's a formidable candidate thanks to his deep political network and ability to dominate the competition in fundraising. "I can't see him dropping out before Florida," said one former GOP congressman well-connected to the field.
But there are signs that a worst-case, crash-and-burn scenario for Bush is more realistic than even his skeptics recognize. He's underperforming in early public polls and is receiving a frosty reception from Republican focus groups. His entitled biography is at odds with the Republican Party's increasing energy from working-class voters, who relate best with candidates who have struggled to make ends meet. The Bush name is a reminder of the past at a time when GOP voters are desperate for new faces. And after losing two straight presidential elections, Republican voters are thinking much more strategically—and aren't nearly as convinced as the political press that Bush is the strongest contender against Hillary Clinton.
It would be foolish to over-read the results of focus groups, but it's equally egregious to ignore their findings—especially given that they're paired with polls that show Bush's candidacy a tough sell among voters. Last week, Bloomberg and Purple Strategies cosponsored a New Hampshire panel of 10 Republicans, most of whom were hostile to a Bush presidential bid. "I know enough to know I don't need to keep voting for a Bush over and over again," one participant said. Several laughed at the notion that he's the front-runner. Not a single one said they'd support him for president.