Froma Harrop: What happened to Bush?

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

Jeb Bush has dropped into single digits in the polls — and that’s just among Republicans in his home state of Florida. What happened to the man with all the money, top name recognition and, according to last year’s political sages, a clear shot at his party’s presidential nomination?

The problem is all the money and how it may have clouded Bush’s political judgment. He seems to have assumed that the cash pile freed him from the chore of dealing with the party’s difficult grass-roots voters.

As part of this faulty thinking, he’s been awfully blatant about advertising his availability as the go-to man for business interests seeking favors from government. Such interactions often take on the air of corporate welfare, despised by many in the Republican base and lots of others.

His moderate position on immigration, no doubt heartfelt but also aimed at the general election voters, only further aggravated the hard right. It was another message to the generally older and white grass roots that he considered the nomination already in the bag.

But the biggest irony of how Bush swings the money bat is that he may have turned off some big-money donors, as well. Case in point is the apparent defection of Texas energy magnate T. Boone Pickens as a loyal benefactor, having penned him a check for $100,000 early on.

The back story: Pickens’ wind power company, Mesa Power, bid on huge energy contracts being granted by the province of Ontario. Pickens lost to NextEra, an energy giant domiciled in Florida. Pickens is now in international court charging Ontario with having fixed the process in NextEra’s favor. The court is expected to rule on the case shortly.

What does this have to do with Jeb Bush? NextEra, owner of Florida Light & Power, has been another bankroller of Bush campaigns. As Florida governor in 2009, Bush infamously called for an increase in the company’s electricity rates. To win support for the unpopular position, he held up the scary prospect of rolling blackouts and economic collapse if the state didn’t go along. A longtime NextEra executive subsequently became a limited partner in one of Bush’s private equity firms.

Pickens has begun to publicly throw support toward Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. Perhaps he resents the Bush family’s divided affections. He recently chided brother George W. for calling Ted Cruz selfish.

“Hell, they’re all in it for themselves,” Pickens said. That’s the voice of one irritated man and also one who no longer sees a downside in alienating a Bush.

Here we have it, the political risk facing a politician with vast dynastic connections and so much campaign cash that he’s declared the prohibitive front-runner. It opens the temptation to give corporate donors the impression that they need him more than he needs them. (Cough up, or I won’t answer your call once I’m president.)

What about Donald Trump, who against logic continues to lead the Republican polls? Trump has a lot more money than Bush has. But Trump does the little people the honor of aiming his populist messages — both wise and ridiculous — directly to them. The big corporate donors are not on his team, his team comprising mainly himself. He doesn’t owe them. That’s the message.

Trump is probably as surprised as anyone that he’s gotten as far as he has — and the thought of actually being elected president may horrify him. His candidacy seemed intended mainly to build his brand.

In any case, the showman knows to go for the people’s love, whereas Bush seeks their allegiance. Love is something a candidate works for. Allegiance is extracted. Which would most of us prefer?


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