Even if Jeb Bush’s candidacy fails, he can still afford to take Marco Rubio down with him.
That’s because for the former Florida governor, the last three months were not the garbage-fire catastrophe that some of his supporters were worried about. That may sound like a low bar, but the Bush’s steady and apparently inexorable downward slide in the polls engendered a few calls for him to put his campaign out of its misery.
But the donors didn’t blink, evinced by his fundraising haul for the third quarter of this year: $13.4 million, which puts him just ahead of Ted Cruz but far behind top Republican money-raker Ben Carson.
Campaign manager Danny Diaz emailed supporters about the fundraising totals Thursday afternoon, which the campaign’s press team forwarded on to reporters. He trumpeted the candidate’s solid numbers while conceding that this race has been a little weird.
“I—for one—would be less than forthcoming if I said we predicted in June that a reality television star supporting Canadian-style single-payer health care and partial-birth abortion would be leading the Republican Primary,” he wrote.
It’s not all sunshine and butterflies, of course. The governor spent heavily over the summer—he had a very high 86 percent burn rate—and has less cash-on-hand than Rubio, who is leading Bush in recent polls. Rubio, by the way, issued a press release shortly after Bush’s numbers came out touting that fact. His burn rate was 40 percent—less than half of Bush’s. And his team’s release touted the campaign’s frugality.
“The campaign bought office furniture from Craigslist, took over 300 UberX rides, and traveled on budget airlines including Frontier, Southwest, Jet Blue and Spirit,” the Rubio campaign said.
Still, if you were getting your hopes up about Bush dropping out, you can simmer down.
“As far as Republican donors are concerned, they’re not moving away from him yet,” said Bradley Blakeman, a Republican strategist and former senior staffer for then-president George W. Bush. “The numbers are important, because if the numbers would have dipped, the rhetoric that we’re hearing would have matched the fundraising.”
In other words, Jeb’s troubles may be overstated. John “Mac” Stipanovich, a Florida Republican lobbyist backing Bush, echoed that sentiment.
“There’s 15 people in the field, not counting the billionaire,” he said, adding that Ben Carson’s open-handed spending habits undermine the impressiveness of his $20 million haul. “That makes Jeb the top fundraiser out of the other remaining 13. I would think that being the best would be good enough.”
Reached for comment, another Bush backer texted a series of birthday party emojis.
Some Democrats share Team Bush’s assessment. John Morgan, a Florida trial lawyer backing Hillary Clinton, emailed that Bush is “the candidate Democrats fear most.”
“He has built a plan for the long haul,” Morgan continued. “Our prayer at night: Please nominate Ted Cruz or someone like him.”
Bush’s haul means he has the finances to stand in the way of that happening. But some Republicans fear that instead of using those funds to hit the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Bush will spend his cash damaging Rubio, a favorite of the GOP’s establishment wing. On msnbc earlier this month, the former governor previewed that tack, charging that Rubio is an unknown quantity in terms of leadership skills.
That statement was a little curious, given that in 2012 the governor told Charlie Rose that Rubio would be a good running mate for Romney and had the experience to be a heartbeat from the Oval Office. Meanwhile, CNN reported that Bush donors actually pushed the candidate to be nicer to Rubio, the second choice of many high-dollar Jeb backers, in case their preferred candidate imploded.
But for now Bush’s candidacy lives on despite anemic polling numbers, which means a real confrontation with Rubio is probably inevitable somewhere down the line. Until then, Team Jeb will have to choose what to do with all this money: try to make their candidate seem more relatable and attractive, or simply tear down the rest of the field?