Jeb Is Damaged Goods

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Yesterday I mentioned the Vox -538 war over 2016 presidential candidate popularity and who’s stealing each other’s charts. Today Sam Wang steps into the debate. And I think his take on what these numbers mean is the most on-target.

Yes, Hillary is much more popular than all the Republicans out there. And the Republicans as a group are either not popular or totally unknown. But the real stand out is that Jeb Bush is damaged goods.

By historical standards, he is probably the most likely nominee at this point. He’s pretty close to wrapping up being the money and the establishment candidate. And those guys tend to win Republican primaries. But Jeb is very well-known already and yet he is substantially less popular than Hillary or Obama or even Joe Biden. What’s particularly striking is that there’s no big scandal associated with him. There’s really nothing particularly bad except that he has the Bush name and he is him.

Rubio and Walker are almost totally blank slates. There are good reasons to think they’ll end up with negative numbers, at least comparable to other Republican candidates. But that’s far from certain. Neither brings much of any baggage to the race. For Bush to make up his net negative ground is possible – but it won’t be easy.

This makes me think that Rubio’s chances may be better than I thought.

As I noted earlier, I’m confident saying that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will never be president and are extremely unlikely to be the Republican nominee. For predictive purposes, I think we can rule them both out. That leaves us with Bush, Walker and Rubio. Jeb has significant net unpopularity with very high name recognition and he instantly cedes whatever yesterday/dynasty arguments Republicans can reasonably make against Hillary Clinton.

Walker will, I think, have temperament issues with the general electorate. He really resonates for ideological conservatives because he’s very direct and in your face – a product in part of the very aggressive, ideological politics of the outer suburbs and rural areas around Milwaukee. But that’s a liability in a general election contest. I still think Rubio has thus far shown little of the dexterity required to weather a national campaign. But he is affable and unthreatening (unlike Walker) and a blank slate with little general election baggage he brings to the race (unlike Bush).

So Rubio is definitely one of the three to watch – dry mouth notwithstanding.

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