At what point should a candidate quit a presidential race? After losing Iowa? New Hampshire? Nevada? South Carolina? Odds are that at some point, the writing is on the wall that things are not going to turn out as you’d hoped and that this election cycle will not result with you moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, any sane candidate would gracefully withdraw and pledge to ensure that the party’s eventual nominee is ultimately victorious in the upcoming general election. But what if this all happened before any of the early primary states? What if the former front-runner, Jeb Bush, were to leave the 2016 GOP presidential race?
There is an argument to be made that Bush’s best option right now is to bow out and throw his support to the candidate who has the best chance at defeating Hillary Clinton in November, fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. Such a move would be a potential game changer if it were to happen.
Bush’s exit from the race, on his own terms, would be a political earthquake. His leaving the race would immediately free up his family’s vast network of donors, loyalists and aides to swoop in and aide Rubio. At present, they are either publicly neutral in the race or working to help Bush and his campaign. Any viable presidential nominee requires a massive campaign and organizing apparatus that knows how to win in November. Bush’s organization would only bolster Rubio’s existing structure that is comprised of the components needed to win.
The RealClearPolitics polling average shows that there is only one candidate that beats Hillary Clinton in the general election: Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio beats Secretary Clinton by 1.9 percent. When it comes to other candidates, they lose to Ms. Clinton and hand Democrats control of the executive branch for a third straight presidential election. Donald Trump loses by 5.5 percent; Ted Cruz gets beaten by 0.8 percent; John Kasich and Mike Huckabee both trail by 7.5 percent; Rand Paul is down by 4 percent; Chris Christie trails by 0.7 percent; Carly Fiorina is behind by 3.6 percent; and Jeb Bush loses by 1.3 percent. It is clear that Rubio’s clear and bold vision of a new American century is resonating with the voters that we need to win in November.
It is important to be clear, Jeb Bush’s exit would not be one of a man who was broken and defeated. His career is one of many triumphs, and sound conservative ideas. It demands should be respected. There is no doubt that Governor Bush possess the experience, intellect, maturity and record required to be president, most likely a good one. However, 2016 is not shaping up to be his year.
For Bush, there is an intangible element to his bold withdrawal and backing of Rubio: he gets to be both kingmaker and party savior. Donald Trump’s accusation that Bush was “low energy” irritated him and his supporters. Throughout the campaign, Trump has mercilessly attacked Bush for any and everything. By the time of the final Republican debate of 2015, it was clear that Bush and his allies truly despised Mr. Trump and could not stomach his winning the nomination. What better way is there for Bush to have the last laugh than for Bush to deny Trump the GOP presidential nomination and save the republican party from certain disaster?
At present, the Republican presidential nominating contest is shaping up to be a long and hard slog between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump — although a strong performance in New Hampshire could propel Chris Christie to this top tier. Cruz seems likely to take the Iowa Caucuses, but the story coming out of Iowa — because the media can’t help itself when it comes to Mr. Trump — would not be that Cruz won, but that Trump lost.
Then, assuming Bush has exited the race, it would allow Rubio to then roll out the endorsements of party power players and New Hampshire favorites, such as Kelly Ayotte, Scott Brown and John McCain. These endorsements would allow for the media to pivot from the “Trump lost Iowa story” to focus on “Rubio picking up steam” days before the New Hampshire Primary.
In short, it would enable Rubio to move forward and garner the momentum needed to win in South Carolina, then Nevada, followed by Super Tuesday and ultimately the GOP presidential nomination.
Should this happen, it would be because one man cared about the Republican Party more than his own seemingly fleeting victory: Jeb Bush. Imagine how history would remember Governor Bush if he were to be magnanimous and make such a bold move for the good of the Republican Party. He would be remembered quite well and live to fight another day.
If Jeb Bush truly wants to stop Donald Trump from harming his political party, his best campaign move is to end his campaign.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and columnist, is president of Somm Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter at @evansiegfried