It’s a funny story. It was just Wednesday when Jeb Bush began needling his prized mentee and current rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, as an inexperienced and untested wild card in the vein of Barack Obama. Bush argued that he, by contrast, was a “proven leader” given his record as governor of Florida.
Twenty-four hours later and one of the nation’s most esteemed pollsters has released an exhausting survey showing that such a message means precisely bupkis to Republican primary voters.
A Pew Research Center poll finds that “by more than two-to-one (65% to 29%), Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say it is more important that a candidate have new ideas than ‘experience and a proven record.’ ” It was not always this way. When Pew asked the question in March, the figures were nearly reversed, with GOP voters preferring “experience and a proven record over new ideas, 57% to 36%.”
It looks an awful lot like these opinions about what voters “want” in a candidate are secondary indicators of the specific candidates to whom voters have taken a fancy. Back in March, when Republican voters were allegedly all interested in experience and proven records, a certain enigmatic New York real estate/reality TV celebrity was not expected to run for president. Donald Trump announced in June, started spewing all sorts of tragicomical demagoguery (“new ideas”), and suddenly a great mass of voters determined that perhaps they like “new ideas” from a first-time politician more than experience. Trump leads Pew’s candidate preference poll with 25 percent. Ben Carson, who also lacks political experience or a governing track record, is second in the poll with 16 percent.
Trump’s margin is further evidence that the dip he saw following the second Republican debate was no free fall, as the people who run the Republican Party were hoping and praying it would be. He’s settled into a comfortable groove in the low-to-mid-20s. And, yes, Trump captures the support of one-third of that 65 percent of Republican voters who prefer “new ideas” to experience. Among that group, Carson is second with 18 percent and Rubio is third with 9 percent. Bush has 2 percent, putting him even with also-ran Rand Paul.
As you’ll almost certainly read on Trump’s Twitter feed or hear in Trump’s constant cable news hits over the next week, Bush’s top-line poll number is a horrific 4 percent in the Pew survey. This appears to be an all-time low for him and—as Trump would say—frankly, it’s just terrible news. His donors are already hollering at him to step it up or risk mass defections among the party elite. Dropping to 4 percent in a Pew poll is not a step up. Rubio clocks in at a modest 8 percent, but at least he’s moving in the right direction. And Rubio doesn’t put his foot in his mouth every other minute, offering tin-eared responses to horrific gun violence or insulting an entire demographic of voters, unlike a certain mentor of his.
It’s hard to conceive of “Donald Trump” at this point as anything other than a 69-year con created by God for the strict purpose of stopping a third Bush from becoming president. Trump doesn’t have to win the nomination to execute this trick; he’s done enough already by changing the contours of what Republicans want on a fundamental level. The Bush campaign came into the election knowing that it would have to address concerns about dynasty and being considered a member of the establishment. It likely didn’t expect a bombastic (to put it generously) figure like Trump to come along and seize polling front-runner status by amplifying these weaknesses through gaudy but attention-grabbing performance art.
Once people get it in their heads that they’d prefer something new and fresh over something older and experienced, it’s difficult to change their minds back. Trump has essentially grabbed the primary electorate by the shoulders, shaken it, and said, Really? You want to consider Jeb Bush? Come to think of it, they really don’t.