This Time Around, Texans Aren’t Burning For a Bush

While there’s not a lot to be added to the chorus of sad assessments of Jeb! Bush’s presidential campaign (just Google “Bush and “toast”  and take your pick), from the perspective of politics in Texas, George W.’s little brother's lack of traction in his family's home state reflect his broader difficulties as we get closer and closer to actual voting and caucusing. At its outset, the 2016 Bush candidacy laid claim to some Texas cred, citing Jeb Bush's family roots in the state and the fact that the family's two former presidents live here. Yet in a field crowded with Texans -- most importantly, Senator Ted Cruz -- the state actually poses more of a problem than an asset for Bush's besieged effort to win the nomination.

The value of the Bush brand with the Texas public (and perhaps elsewhere) appears to have been overestimated, at least by early supporters and even observers of Jeb's candidacy. We included Governor Bush (R-FL) in six Republican presidential trial ballots in University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polls between October 2013 and June 2015. He has never broken through into double figures, with his vote share fluctuating between seven and nine percent. Most recently, he earned seven percent in June, and wasn’t a common fallback choice, either – he was the second choice of only five percent of potential Republican primary voters who had initially chosen someone else. More recently, the September Texas Lyceum found Bush with 10 percent, and the second choice of only 6 percent, not suggesting much movement.

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Ted Cruz20%
Rick Perry12%
Scott Walker10%
Marco Rubio8%
Jeb Bush7%
Rand Paul6%
Ben Carson6%
Mike Huckabee5%
Carly Fiorina3%
Rick Santorum2%
Donald Trump2%
Chris Christie1%
John Kasich1%
Lindsey Graham1%
Bobby Jindal1%
George Pataki0%
Don't know15%

Bush was one of five candidates with Texas ties to enter the race, along Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Rick Perry, a fact loudly trumpeted by Texas media outlets. The metaphoric claim that “all roads lead to Texas” has turned out to be as savvy as the Trans Texas Corridor. Perry took an off-ramp with the journey barely underway; Fiorina surged briefly after her performance at the second tier debate and earned a spot at the big table, but hasn’t made much of it and is unlikely to be a factor in an actual contest – should she last that long. Rand Paul is similarly stalled in single digits.

This leaves Bush with only one other significant Texas competitor, but one he has been unable to dislodge as a favorite son in the Texas conservative family (you can’t win all such contests, apparently): Senator Ted Cruz. The Texas Tea Party favorite entered the race as the standard bearer of the substantial bloc of extremely conservative voters who have played a growing role in GOP primaries for at least the last three election cycles in Texas. His performance in the UT/TT trial ballots has been just as dominant as Bush’s have been lackluster: Cruz has finished first on every ballot. In the September Lyceum Poll, the outside world intruded in the form of Donald Trump, who edged out Cruz 21 percent to 16 percent. (Texas is, after all, part of America and, probably most importantly, part of the American media universe.)  Cruz's dominance and Bush's patterns of single-digit poll performances illustrate how the then-Texas GOP chairman's suggestion to McClatchy’s Maria Recio in the early going that “The Bush name is synonymous with Texas” may not have been quite up to date. (A few days after the dateline on Recio’s story, Munisteri himself illustrated the limitations of Bush-Texas GOP ties by resigning as party chair to join the campaign of Rand Paul.

Bush’s roots haven't given him an advantage in grass tops support either. He has raised a respectable sum of money in Texas – per the Open Secrets site, over $2.4 million, about 10 percent of his total. But Texas is ranked fourth among his fundraising sources, behind Florida (his real home state), New York, and California. Florida is his home state and New York and California are large and rich. But even with these caveats, the Texas fundraising totals look pretty weak when compared to Cruz, who raised more in Texas in absolute terms – over $8.6 million – but also nearly doubled Bush’s home state total in Florida, where Bush has had to compete with Rubio for local contributions.

Jeb Bush Fundraising Totals by State (October 2015)
State Total Percent
Florida $4,827,004     20%
New York $2,941,546 12%
California $2,583,675 11%
Texas $2,419,990 10%
Other States $10,821,905 46%
Ted Cruz Fundraising Totals by State (October 2015)
State Total Percent
Texas $8,648,015 53%
California $1,167,363 7%
Florida $827,427 5%
New York $503,151 3%
Other States $5,211,982 32%


Marco Rubio Totals by State (October 2015)
State Total Percent
Florida $2,535,198 22%
California $2,429,314 21%
Texas $1,144,187 10%
New York $851,263 7%
Other states $4,812,142 41%

(Data in tables from FEC data compiled by

Cruz is the crux of Jeb's Texas problem; no wonder his big brother has decided that he doesn’t like Cruz very much (any more). In the abstract, it was at least plausible to speculate that the George W.’s popularity in Texas during his governorship, even given some inevitable half-life decay, would transfer to Jeb!.  But Cruz’s position in Texas, which will almost certainly survive the summer of Trump and even the whispering autumn of Carson, is both symptom and cause of Bush’s fortunes in Texas. Both the Bush campaign’s fundraising numbers and the Houston addresses that pop up among donors to the Bush SuperPac Right to Rise USA suggest lingering fealty to the Bush era of compassionate conservatism and to a more easygoing brand of Republican conservatism in some corners of the Texas GOP. But the excitement among the base in the party lies with Cruz’s incendiary politics of dissatisfaction, which explicitly rejects the more gentile politics of compromise and coalition (let alone compassionate conservatism). The Tea Party aligned voters that almost uniformly embrace Cruz for both his substance and his tone have little use for a dynastic conservative running on a record of governance. Bush and his family may have thought their Texas roots would feed the success of yet another presidential candidacy. If so, they appear to have underestimated just how much Cruz’s scorched earth politics have charred the landscape that once nurtured their ambitions.  While many other factors have contributed to Jeb Bush’s difficulties, Ted Cruz’s position in his home state and the forces that put him there ensured that Texas was never going to be part of the solution to Bush’s problems. Cruz’s likely success in winning at least a good chunk of the Texas delegates in the March 1 primary will illuminate this very clearly. The key question at the moment about Bush is just how distant his vantage point will be when the primary results  demonstrate how very different today's Texas GOP is from the one that nurtured the careers of his father and brother.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable4%27%58%
Somewhat favorable7%31%24%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%19%7%
Somewhat unfavorable6%13%7%
Very unfavorable67%6%1%
Don't know/No opinion5%5%3%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Ted Cruz0%14%35%
Rick Perry8%17%7%
Scott Walker0%6%16%
Marco Rubio0%8%8%
Jeb Bush23%11%1%
Rand Paul36%4%5%
Ben Carson0%6%6%
Mike Huckabee0%6%5%
Carly Fiorina0%2%5%
Rick Santorum5%1%2%
Donald Trump4%3%0%
Chris Christie10%1%0%
John Kasich0%1%0%
Lindsey Graham0%1%0%
Bobby Jindal0%2%0%
George Pataki0%0%1%
Don't know14%17%9%