Mike Murphy did not ruin Jeb Bush’s campaign.

Mike Murphy Did Not Ruin Jeb Bush’s Campaign

Mike Murphy Did Not Ruin Jeb Bush’s Campaign

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 22 2016 12:58 PM

The Jeb Bush Blame Game

Rich donors are mad at the head of a Bush super PAC for losing the election. They should actually be mad at themselves.

Mike Murphy Jeb Bush.
Mike Murphy (left),the head of Jeb Bush’s big-spending, super PAC, Right to Rise, isn’t to blame for the candidate’s downfall.

Photo illustration by Sofya Levina. Photos by Spencer Platt/Getty Images and Eric Thayer/Getty Images.

Jeb Bush lost the Republican nomination because he was the wrong candidate in the wrong cycle. But still, the search for a scapegoat has commenced.

Jim Newell Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.

What went wrong with Jeb’s campaign? According to the stories out since Bush’s exit from the race, filled with anonymous nuggets from political consultants who failed, the fault lies with some other political consultant who failed more. These stories are always amusing in the narrowness they’re trying to sell. We’re led to believe, for example, that the Bush juggernaut somehow went nowhere because one Bush adviser, Sally Bradshaw, was too protective of Bush or whatever. It was her fault! Had she acted in a more forthright manner toward her employer, he would be skipping jubilantly to the nomination right now.  

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If Sally Bradshaw is the ludicrous scapegoat for a collective failed effort on the inside, Mike Murphy is the go-to outside man to blame.

Murphy, the head of Bush’s big-spending, nine-digit super PAC, Right to Rise, is being pummeled in predictable fashion right now by angry donors and others looking to cover their hides. It’s true that the longtime political consultant has found a knack in recent years for sidling up to whales. He was a lead strategist for former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s failed $177 million bid for governor of California in 2010—another case in which a candidate obviously wasn’t going to win but decided to burn vast sums of cash anyway.

How much did Murphy get paid on commission in the great Bush money bonfire? “One Bush bundler” tells CNN that the figure was “a minimum of $14 million.” Murphy’s compensation is not publicly known, though, and he has responded to that estimation as “absolute bullshit.” Still, Murphy’s commission was likely disproportionate to his candidate’s performance, so long as he was paid above California’s minimum wage.

But why did Murphy have all of this money in the first place? Because rich people gave it to him. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, there are no federal, state, or municipal laws that required these people to donate five- to eight-figure sums to Jeb Bush’s super PAC. So before these donors blame Murphy for blowing their money, perhaps they should blame themselves for not doing the requisite investment research.

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These donors were the ones who decided to open up their wallets for the Jeb campaign without requiring the candidate—who last ran for political office in 2002—to prove himself. I get where they were coming from. Recent Republican presidential history suggests that voters usually grant the nomination to the center-right guy whose “turn” it is, and it was Bush’s turn. He was a popular former governor of Florida and a Bush, and Bushes are supposed to win nominations. Other candidates would cower at his sight and clear the field for fear of retribution. These are things that Murphy, the donors, Republican operatives, Bush himself, and us dolts in the media tended to believe.

It didn’t happen, for a set of factors that are mostly beyond any individual’s control. Bush was an unpersuasive candidate to an electorate that was never open to his persuasions. That’s all it is, and none of Murphy’s ads could change that.

If the conventional wisdom becomes that Bush’s failure was one ineffective consultant’s fault, that sets up rich people to make the same expensive mistake again with a different consultant, which would be funny. But if donors never subject a potential candidate to a “hazing trial to test skill and stability” before throwing burlap sacks of cash in his direction, they don’t have much to complain about.