09/29/2015 02:58 pm ET

Jeb Bush Donors Are Not Panicking. Or Are They? Really, Who Can Tell?

Politico is pretty sure something is happening with Bush donors, so they'll just report both things.
Pictured: the candidate who's got all his backers nervous, or possibly not.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Pictured: the candidate who's got all his backers nervous, or possibly not.

Something is going on with Jeb Bush's campaign these days. Maybe something bad? But maybe something good -- the intel is fuzzy. Luckily, we have journalists to sort it all out. Journalists like Politico's Eli Stokols, who reported on Tuesday that the Bush campaign is working very hard these days to relieve the "angst" of its donors -- one of whom rates the level of "panic" at "six or seven" out of 10.

Or maybe the panic level is not that high? The reason I am wondering is because Politico's Ben White also reported Tuesday that "Bush donors" are "not panicked." As in, you know, zero on the scale of zero-to-10. The null set of panic.

I don't know. Maybe the person who should be panicking is Eli Stokols, now reporting live from beneath the bus his colleague threw him under? Let's get this sorted out.

According to Stokols' report, the Bush campaign has, in recent days, gone to great lengths to assure the candidate's notoriously fainthearted donors that despite all the talk about his faltering poll numbers, that "low energy" barb from Donald Trump that seems to be sticking, and the simultaneous elevation of his Florida rival Marco Rubio, the donors are still backing the right horse because of Bush's clear "lead in the political prediction markets." Only... well, there was a bit of hiccup. Per Stokols:

Just one problem: Beginning Sunday night, PredictIt, the biggest of the online sites and the one referenced last week by top Bush advisers and confidants, placed Marco Rubio ahead of Bush at the head of the GOP pack.

The sudden evaporation of yet another data point in his favor explains the tension in and around Bush's campaign this week on the eve of the third quarter FEC fundraising deadline.

That's basically been the consensus reporting from this weekend, after The Washington Post reported that Bush's "top donors" were "warning that the former Florida governor needs to demonstrate growth in the polls over the next month or face serious defections among supporters."

Compounding this problem is the perception that Scott Walker's exit from the race has primarily benefited Rubio. By the way, this is one of my favorite aspects of the primary process: the part where the staffers and donors who'd backed early-flameout candidates are then mysteriously reborn as vital assets to be ravenously coveted and courted by the candidates who remain.

Both the Rubio and Bush camps have tried to position themselves as the primary haven for Walker's exiles, and apparently there is no former Walker personage too obscure to qualify as a "get." Here, for example, is Des Moines Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs tweeting about the Bush camp's success in landing the support of one of Walker's Iowa interns! But the media narrative is in, and Rubio is the winner, according to Politico and The Wall Street Journal.

So it's not surprising when Stokols reports that "the perception that Rubio is a stronger communicator has taken hold and is affecting fundraising at the quarter's end, according to sources in both camps." To counter the tidal force of these perceptions, Stokols says that the Bush camp is reminding its flighty donors about a couple of its own not-insignificant advantages: the Bush team has a lot of money, and it has a lot of organization.

Rather than view White's clashing report as a refutation of Stokols' newsgathering skills, perhaps we should simply see it as evidence that at least a few lucky Bush donors, having downed this particular batch of Kool-Aid, felt totally comfortable circling back to Politico with assurances that everything is going to work out. As one of "several" who talked to White put it:

“43 is a surrogate, Laura Bush is a surrogate, Barbara Bush is a surrogate, Columba Bush is a surrogate, so are Jeb Jr. and George P, plus others, each of whom can swing well north of $50K an event. This is a structural advantage that far outweighs the negative of the Bush name, especially given the reality that the Rs may be running against Clinton Inc, the most formidable money machine in history.”

Ehhh, you know, leaving aside the sliding scale value of each of those surrogates, the whole idea that Bush is the one candidate capable of raising money in the general election (at an oh-so-quaint $50K a pop, at that!) is frustratingly naive. Maybe it's just much easier to quell the panic of the frustratingly naive donors? Regardless, it appears the message from Bush's team is going down well enough that at least one donor was happy to parrot it right back to White: "Bottom line, Jeb is the only grownup with money, a message and organization. Time is, as the Stones say, on his side."

And that's fair: A large campaign war chest and a zealously constructed campaign infrastructure are the sorts of things that will pay much greater dividends in January than they're paying at the moment. Of course, perhaps the real story here is that beneath its confident veneer is a Bush campaign that's every bit as concerned about its current lackluster state as its donors are. As Stokols notes, the Bush campaign will be confronting its near-term problems by putting $25 million worth of ads on the airwaves beginning next month.

So hey, don't worry, Bush donors, everything is gonna be fine, like, so fine, it's probably not even a thing, man.


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