Jeb Bush’s supporters, including fundraisers, are frowning on his stepped up attacks against his fellow Floridian and Republican, Marco Rubio, and see it as a desperate effort to gain an edge over him in the presidential race, published reports say.
They are so turned off by the former Florida governor’s attacks on Rubio that some of his supporters are rethinking their backing of him, while at least one of the state’s top fundraisers is ditching Bush and getting behind Rubio, Politico reported.
“I think the world of Jeb Bush. He was a great governor of Florida and is a really good person, but the campaign has hijacked his message,” said the fundraiser, Brian Ballard, to Politico.
“The campaign has become negative, one that is about attacking and trying to bring down Marco Rubio. And that doesn’t sit well—not only with me, but with anyone who knows the two,” said Ballard, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush’s campaign and super PAC.
“Marco’s a friend of mine. I didn’t sign up for a campaign that was going to be negative and attack a bright star of the party’s future. It doesn’t make sense. I’m over it. And I’m done.”
The last straw, Ballard said, was when the Bush campaign referred to Rubio as “the GOP Obama” -- because of his lack of executive experience and just one term in the U.S. Senate – as well as deriding his one-time mentee as a “risky bet” because of debts Rubio’s had and questions that have been raised about his use of a government credit card when he was in the state legislature.
A Bush staffer whom Politico did not name downplayed Ballard’s defection, saying that he had not seemed to be very engaged with Bush’s quest for the presidency.
“While we appreciate Brian’s support of the governor, in August, we expressed to him serious concerns about his continued lack of discretion regarding campaign strategy — particularly in relation to his interaction with the national media,” Politico quoted the staffer as saying. “He has not been actively engaged in this campaign or our team’s efforts for months, and his comments today are of little surprise to anyone. We wish him well.”
Politico noted, nonetheless, that plenty of other supporters of Bush shared Ballard’s distaste for the attacks against Rubio as well as Bush’s seemingly struggling campaign.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions said that Bush just can’t pull off playing the part of attack dog.
“I don’t think it’s his strong suit,” said Sessions, who Politico said remains a supporter of Bush. “I think it’s Donald Trump’s strong suit.”
In the last GOP debate, Bush took a verbal swing at Rubio, pointed out the many votes he’s missed in the Senate in order to campaign for president, and saying that he should step down from his seat if he’s going not going to do the job to which he was elected. The criticism backfired, however, when Rubio calmly expressed almost pity for Bush for what he described as a last-ditch effort to attack him to save his ailing campaign.
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a South Florida Republican who knows both Bush and Rubio, supports Bush, but disapproves of the shots he has been taking at his one-time friend.
“The serious candidates in this race should focus on their policy proposals and résumés,” Curbelo said to POLITICO. “Mud-slinging and efforts to disqualify one another will only serve to pave Hillary Clinton's path to the White House.”
Politico quoted an unnamed source who had ties to the Bush campaign as saying that his staff, not Bush himself, is really to blame.
The source said some on Bush’s staff call Rubio “Judas” because they see his decision to run against Bush, who years ago was Rubio’s mentor, as betrayal. The source said some key people in the Bush campaign have turned a deaf ear to concerns supporters have about the increasingly nasty tone.
“The campaign has been arrogant with donors, arrogant with staff, arrogant with Republicans and arrogant with the media,” the source said. “And now look at where we are: isolated.”
Many who are disappointed in Bush are becoming more enchanted by Rubio as an electable candidate who can do well both in the primary and the general election.
Politico said that when it sought a comment from the Bush campaign, it was referred to statements Bush has made recently about how he respects Rubio.
“For a substantial portion of the D.C. crowd — and I think this probably goes beyond D.C. — Marco is well liked,” Politico quoted a major Bush donor and fundraiser as saying. “I don’t know necessarily what is gained by picking fights with people.”
“Jeb has been and needs to continue to talk about the issues,” said Chicago investor Ron Gidwitz, a Bush donor who has contributed $100,000 to Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise. “I see no reason why Jeb needs to attack anyone.”
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