In Defense of Mike Murphy…

Right to Rise is not the problem- their candidate is

It seems this week that Jebworld donors, surrogates and hangers-on can’t go two minutes without shouting to the press about their strange (and conspicuously relative) respect for Donald Trump, or whispering to them about their grave concerns over Bush consigliere Mike Murphy’s handling of Right to Rise, Jeb’s outside muscle.

Now leaving aside the dynamics of this temporary alliance with Trump, the grousing over Super PAC strategy is absurd on every level. Let us examine the telltale paragraph from POLITICO:

POLITICO interviewed nearly two dozen Right to Rise donors and Bush supporters, and all blamed Murphy for a super PAC strategy that has failed to boost their struggling candidate. Multiple advisers to the Right to Rise super PAC concede privately that the $40 million spent on positive ads aimed at telling Bush’s story has yielded no tangible dividends.

The report should have ended right there, or simply come to a completely different conclusion. If you are a frustrated Jeb supporter, the answer is staring you right in the face: when $40 million in positive media can’t move the needle in your candidate’s favor, perhaps the issue is not the Super PAC.

Otherwise, what is the argument? That Jeb, the son and brother of the past two GOP presidents, was inadequately packaged and sold to a primary electorate hungry for another Bush? That with better outside help he would have rocketed to the top of the polls? Color me skeptical.

Complaints of spendthrift habits also miss the mark- the latest grumbling centers around trollish billboards and miniature LCD screens loaded with a Jeb bio video. Are these moved gimmicky? Perhaps- but earned media more than justified the minimal expense. And when $40 million in feel-good advertising gets you nowhere, suddenly buzzworthy gimmicks look like the smarter play.

But it’s not just frustrated Jeb partisans heaping scorn on Murphy. He has become something of a maniacal supervillian to Rubio backers thanks to $20 million in negative adverting, and may soon be the scourge of the dozen Kasich supporters residing outside of Ohio or New Hampshire. To them I say: Mike Murphy is not your problem.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the Reservoir Dogs scene unfolding in the Granite State right now is gratuitous, fratricidal, and ultimately futile. But Murphy and his team are pros, and they will play to the whistle. That means that as long as Jeb is in the race, they have a fiduciary duty to prosecute their campaign in such a way that it puts their candidate in the best position to win.

The problem of course, is that short of being the last man standing, Jeb cannot- and will not- be the nominee. But until he figured that out for himself, the R2R machine marches ever forward. Jeb’s path, such as it is, is to be the last man standing, and the only way to facilitate that is by snuffing out the competition, one by one.

So don’t blame Mike Murphy’s Super PAC strategy for Jeb’s troubles. Indulging this narrative merely insulates Jeb from the reality of this race and the consequences of his continued lurch toward electoral doom. Jeb needs to understand that the only person who can stop this train is him. He can’t fire Murphy- he can only fire himself.

If there’s anything to be critical about in hindsight, it’s the original, pre-firewall conception of Jeb’s campaign. The flawed conceit of his candidacy was that Bush Legacy x Wonkish Technocrat + $100 million= 2016 GOP nomination. Now that might have been a can’t-miss formula for success circa 2006, but a decade later it appeared shaky to anyone who looked closely.

So put away the pitchforks and let Murphy do his job. The Jeb train is going nowhere fast. $20 million later, Marco will be fine. As personal as friendly fire feels, if these hits didn’t come out in the primary, they would have been made in the general. The bigger issue is that this ongoing battle royale is wasting time that we as conservatives don’t have to stop Donald Trump. That is a problem- and only Jeb can fix it.

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