While political outsider Donald Trump continues to trounce the other 16 candidates in early GOP presidential polls, many in the so-called “establishment” have been nervously wringing their hands. At first, they hoped Trump would just go away, after a brief flash-in-the-pan popularity. But as he continues to defy all expectations — and laws of gravity — establishment types are realizing they need an alternative who can actually pose a challenge to Trump.
While Jeb Bush, the original establishment favorite, has disappointed in both his debate performance and the polls, another candidate is quietly building momentum and threatening to rob Bush of his mantle of establishment favorite.
As The Hill reports:
Jeb Bush has a new nemesis, and it isn’t Donald Trump.
Presidential hopeful, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), is quietly rising in the polls in New Hampshire, capitalizing on a strong debate performance where he seemed at ease in the spotlight.
With many in the Republican Party seeking to find a Trump slayer, Kasich’s late-summer surge is threatening to steal away the mantle of establishment favorite that Bush had long been expected to claim.
“Of all the candidates out there in terms of corralling the establishment voters, Kasich is a clear and present danger of taking them,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill.
The threat to Bush is clear.
The former Florida governor is an underdog in the Iowa caucus, and if current polling holds, might not even finish in the top five for the race to the White House.
That lends added importance to New Hampshire, the first primary state in the nation and a reliable bellwether for the nomination.
Should Kasich top Bush in the state, strategists say, the race could change in an instant.
“[Kasich] wants to become the establishment front-runner, and he can do that by beating Jeb in New Hampshire,” said Matt Mackowiak, another GOP strategist.
But beating Bush will be no easy task.
His fundraising network is vast, thanks to the connections built up over the years by his family. The super-PAC supporting Bush’s candidacy has already raised more than $100 million, and his campaign is expected to stockpile cash at a rapid pace.
Bush also has access to some of the Republican Party’s best advisers, strategists and policy minds, as many of them served in the administrations of his brother and father.
But it’s precisely what made Bush an early establishment favorite that threatens his viability now. As outsider Trump’s popularity so vividly demonstrates, the anti-establishment mood among Republicans — and perhaps the electorate at large — transforms many of Bush’s assets into liabilities. Indeed, the Quinnipiac University poll released just yesterday, which asked voters to name the first word that comes to mind when they think of each of the candidates, some of the top mentions for Jeb Bush were “Bush,” “family,” “brother,” and “dynasty.” All of which might have been positives at a different time, but can easily be interpreted as negatives today, given widespread voter mood. Another top word given in the poll for Bush — “weak” — certainly doesn’t bode well either, at a time when Americans are exhausted by our current administration’s weakness and are hungry for someone to stand up to the tyrants we face — both at home and abroad.
But Bush’s tepid showing in the first GOP debate, followed by a few awkward statements on the campaign trail, have halted some of the momentum he appeared to build earlier this summer — and Kasich is filling the void.
A survey released this week by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) found Kasich in second place in New Hampshire, thanks to increased support among moderate voters.
Kasich took 11 percent support in the poll, followed by former business executive Carly Fiorina (10 percent), Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (7 percent each) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (6 percent).
And perhaps most striking of all is how Kasich might fare against once-presumed Democrat challenger, Hillary Clinton.
PPP’s survey also showed Kasich as the Republican in the state who would present the strongest challenge to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
A Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University poll released days after the first GOP debate earlier this month found Bush and Kasich neck and neck at 13 percent and 12 percent in New Hampshire, respectively.
Still, Trump remains at the head of the pack both in New Hampshire and nationally, in some cases leading the other 17 candidates by double-digits.
Regardless, “New Hampshire is the spark,” O’Connell said, noting that it’s difficult to gain traction in the other early-voting states without big national poll numbers and attention.
“If [Kasich] can actually win New Hampshire, then the game board changes,” O’Connell added.
Kasich — a former nine-term congressman — is enjoying record approval ratings back home in the swing state of Ohio, which could also be an advantage to the GOP were he to become the nominee. Despite being a relative late-comer to the race, Kasich already has some solid support behind him, including big-name endorsements from former New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R), Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). He’s also been backed by Thomas Rath, a veteran operative and former New Hampshire attorney general, and former New Hampshire Sen. John E. Sununu, who is now a top adviser. The candidate’s momentum has also been fueled by super-PAC, New Day for America, that has spent $4 million in New Hampshire since mid-July, an official told The Hill.