- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jeb Bush staked his presidential run on an epic campaign push in South Carolina, but he remained down in the polls and struggling for traction with two days until the state’s first-in-the-South GOP primary.

He charged into the Palmetto State jazzed by a better-than-expected finish in fourth place in the New Hampshire primary. Now the heir to the Bush political legacy again is battling for fourth place — but this time that would be a stinging embarrassment.

A poor showing in the primary Saturday likely will be the beginning of the end for Mr. Bush, who entered the race as the heavy favorite to win the nomination but was eclipsed by billionaire businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump as soon as he entered the contest.

Underscoring his plight, a new poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Bush in last place with a paltry 4 percent of the vote among Republican voters nationwide.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas bolted to the front of the pack in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll with 28 percent, followed by Mr. Trump at 26 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 17 percent, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 11 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10 percent.

The campaign only gets more expensive after South Carolina, when Super Tuesday kicks off a series of multistage primaries that require massive spending to stay competitive. And donors don’t line up to finance candidates who can’t come in better than fourth or fifth place and poll at the back of the pack.

Mr. Bush has tried almost everything: tough jabs at rivals, negative ads and campaigning alongside his big brother, former President George W. Bush, who has strong ties to the state and is popular there.

Nothing has worked for the former Florida governor.

Republican strategist Bruce Haynes said Mr. Bush’s struggles stem from his inability to peel off an establishment label in an election cycle when voters want an antiestablishment champion.

“He is the candidate in the race who is most perceived to represent the Washington establishment and the status quo, and it’s evident this far into the race that there is very little he can do to shake that perception, whether it is reality or not,” said Mr. Haynes, an expert on South Carolina presidential politics.

“The rebranding of Jeb Bush should have come early and been baked in longer,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because he is a real conservative and he could be a terrific president, but that perception seems to be fairly unshakable at this point.”

Mr. Haynes said he could not fault the Bush campaign for calling in the former president, though it reinforced the candidate’s image as an establishment figure.

“They had limited strategic choices. It was a risk worth taking,” he said.

Mr. Bush trailed in fifth place with 8 percent in a Monmouth University poll of likely Republican voters in South Carolina that was released Wednesday. He only beat Mr. Carson at 7 percent in the survey.

Mr. Trump topped the poll with 35 percent, followed by Mr. Cruz at 19 percent, Mr. Rubio at 17 percent and Mr. Kasich at 9 percent.

Mr. Bush took shots at all the candidates outpacing him in the race during a town hall meeting in South Carolina.

He questioned how Mr. Rubio, who presents himself as a foreign policy expert, could question Mr. Bush’s foreign policy experience.

“Wow,” he said. “Coming from a guy whose office has a hard time actually saying what his accomplishments are, who says going to hearings to listen to smart people talk about things, rather than actually leading, that’s kind of a low blow, if you think about it.”

He added, “I know what it is to be commander in chief. I know what it is to lead.”

Mr. Bush knocked Mr. Trump and Mr. Kasich for saying the U.S. doesn’t need to spend more money on the military. “They’re wrong,” he said.

And he dismissed Mr. Cruz’s vow to carpet-bomb the terrorist group known as Islamic State or ISIS. “You can’t carpet-bomb ISIS,” said Mr. Bush. “Carpet-bombing kind of went out in the ’60s with bell-bottoms and long sideburns. We have precision fighters now … you don’t need to carpet-bomb. That’s just a sign of trying to [get] macho. That’s not a serious policy.”

 

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