Friday, October 30, 2015

Jeb! Campaign Blueprint--Phileas Fogg or Baron Munchausen?

Jeb Bush’s Campaign staff shared with US News a 112 page internal campaign blueprint that exposed the the nitty gritty details of an establishment $130 million primary campaign.  After studying the Jeb! Q3 Campaign Briefing, it is hard not to hear the candidate speak and not think of the strategerie (sic) behind it. Yet the opposition intelligence contained in the blue book used to buttress its analysis also lends insight on the possible perceived primary pathways to victory for much of the Republican field

Jeb’s campaign is banking on surviving the February GOP contests. Afterwards it would leverage its fundraising prowess (both hard money and Super PACs) via advertising, endorsements, strategic Hispanic outreach for success in many contests. The Jeb! campaign is comfortable selling an idea of inevitability that Jeb is the only one electable against Hillary Clinton for a Game of Thrones dynastic grudge match.

It was telling that the Jeb! campaign advisers used a literary conceit to explore their long term primary strategy. After the early primaries, the Jeb! campaign used the codename Phileas Fogg, from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, to liken the frenetic March strategy to compete for 1,428 delegates in 22 state contests.

The character Phileas Fogg was a wealthy gentleman living in solitude but in a meticulous manner who takes up an impossible bet at the Reform Club. Around the World in Eighty Days chronicled those adventures. Kind of curious parallels when applied to a campaign of a son of a wealthy dynastic political family who had been away from politics for years but plots to come back with a well crafted plan.  Hmm.

While the internal memo did have several graphics which grappled with the Donald Trump phenomenon (particularly on the “W” association that he kept us safe), it seemed as if Jeb strategists perceived their main rival as being Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  The Jeb! campaign is prepared to shill the line that “Rubio is a risky bet” and playing up political parallels with the career of Barack Obama. Hence the Jeb attendance attack on Rubio during the third GOP Presidential debate.

The fundraising bar graphs showed that Bush inspired organizations (like the Right to Rise PAC) being prepared to outspend Rubio inspired organizations (like the Conservative Solutions PAC) for Future Ad Buys in Iowa and New Hampshire.  The Jeb! Campaign also was going to do a strong ad buy in South Carolina.

To extrapolate some strategy from the blueprint, Jeb is prepared to spend big in Iowa on the airwaves.  While they have a paid staff of 7 which includes a Hispanic outreach team, one senses that they are not trying to win as much as not being winnowed out.  The heavy ad buys in New Hampshire indicate this is where they would like their first win. However, winning the Granite State would be challenging as Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is putting everything in New Hampshire. This would also seem like fertile campaign territory for Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.  The proposed heavy ad buys in South Carolina would rely upon “Big Mo” from New Hampshire into parlayed success in the Palmetto State.

The curious aspect of this internal analysis is its ambiguity for the SEC primary. If Jeb is able to neutralize Rubio, he would have the inside track on Florida’s winner take all 99 delegates. Jeb’s appeal has promise in some of the bigger states, presuming that the field of 15 candidates is mostly cleared.

The shortcomings of Jeb’s strategy are manifold.  They seem to think endorsements are of utmost importance. In fact, their answer to foreign policy challenges is look at how many decorated general support Jeb.  The Jeb strategists look kindly upon “the Bush brand” which seems counter to Bush fatigue and anti-dynastic ebbs in this election cycle.  The Jeb strategists believe that pointing to Bush’s educational accomplishments as Governor nearly a decade ago is a selling point without addressing complaints about Jeb’s association (promotion and profiting) from Common Core.

From a meta standpoint, Jeb’s campaign revolves around big money, which is necessary for the saturation advertising for the Bush brand prior to the February contests. Well, events like disastrous debate appearance can stop the flow of funds.  And because of the staffing and need to do early ads, their burn rate is about 90%.  It may make it hard to grease the skids when crunch time comes.  This might explain the  course correction of slashing campaign costs and shaking up the campaign as Jeb languishes in low poll numbers nationally and in key early contest states.

Moreover, the internal analysis is ambiguous on their Phileas Fogg strategy for March.  It’s great that there are a boatload of delegates available in March, but how exactly does one compete in twelve simultaneous contests on SEC Tuesday (March 1) for 612 delegates distributed proportionally.  Surely the answer is with advertising dollars and “The Big Mo”. But GOP rules this cycle require “winning” at least six contests for a candidates name to be placed in nomination. Unless Big Mo is an avalanche, this might be a big problem for Jeb.

This is a crowded GOP primary field. Several candidates look like they have staying power based on big bank accounts which have not been burnt through (e.g. Trump, Cruz).  It is an outsider’s election with Dr Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the lead, but a Jeb conceit that they will fade away and Rubio is the big challenge. The briefing focuses at winning delegates but not necessarily contests.  This could be a fatal mistake as GOP primary rules require winning at least six contests for a name to get put into nomination.  If the February primaries are divided by several contenders, there may neither be “the Big Mo” nor the establishment (electable) and outsider left as the last men standing. That scenario moots the blueprints findings.

This cynical political junkie is wondering if the Phineas Fogg blueprint would be better substituted by the Adventures of Baron Munchusen. It may be less of a frenetic but methodical slog as envisioned by the internal analysis and more of like on of the Munchausen movie tagline “Remarkable. Unbelievable. Impossible. And true.”

h/t: US News

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