Jeb Bush is playing an inside game — courting Republican Party officials — and hoping it will beef up his outside game — wooing Republican voters. Because his outside game, by itself, isn’t cutting it: He’s fallen into the single digits in national polls, as well as surveys in Iowa and New Hampshire.
It’s early in the presidential race and the polls don’t mean much, but the problem for Bush is that his attempt to win the endorsement primary appears to be going the same way as his efforts to win over voters: He’s attracting moderate and liberal Republicans, and that’s about it.
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Bush has 23 endorsements from members of Congress — only 8 percent of all Republican elected federal officials. And when we break down these endorsements by ideology — using DW-Nominate, a statistic that uses roll call votes to rate members of Congress on a liberal-conservative scale1 — Bush has:
- 15 percent of possible endorsements from the most liberal third of congressional Republicans;
- 5 percent of Republicans in the middle third;
- and just 3 percent of the most conservative third of the GOP caucus in Congress.
Bush’s support comes mostly from the left flank of the GOP. Indeed, Bush has just four endorsements from the more conservative half of congressional Republicans.
You can see the same pattern in Bush’s support among voters. He’s at 9 percent in The Huffington Post’s Pollster aggregate of national primary polls, and that 9 percent is coming mostly from moderates. In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, Bush received just 3 percent among very conservative Republicans, 11 percent among somewhat conservative Republicans and 16 percent among moderate and liberal Republicans.2 Once again, Bush isn’t doing particularly well anywhere, though he does best with the left half of the party.
It’s hard not to wonder if this simply isn’t Bush’s Republican Party anymore. The ideology of the average Bush congressional endorser (0.38 on a scale where -1 is the most liberal and +1 the most conservative) is closer to the ideology of the average Republican member of Congress during his brother’s run for the presidency in 2000 (0.40) than today’s (0.49). And during those years, GOP voters marched rightward too:
Bush isn’t in the position of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Clinton is being challenged from the left by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Clinton has been endorsed by party actors of all ideological types and will likely be able to use her advantage in the endorsement primary to barrel over the competition.
The potential bright side for Bush is that his voter support could pick up if he starts doing better in the endorsement primary. We don’t know, for instance, if Bush has endorsements locked down that aren’t public yet. And it’s still early; as the 15-candidate GOP field consolidates, much will change.
As that happens, keep an eye on where Bush’s endorsements are coming from. He’ll need the backing of more conservative party officials who don’t agree with him on everything but think he’s their best bet for a GOP win in the general election.