In interviews this week, dozens of Bush backers and informed Republicans — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly — described an overly optimistic, even haughty exploratory operation. Strategic errors were exacerbated by unexpected stumbles by the would-be candidate and internal strife within his team, culminating in a staff shake-up this week.
The original premise of Bush’s candidacy — that a bold, fast start would scare off potential rivals and help him overcome the burden of his last name — has proved to be misguided.
His operation’s ability to rake in large checks also fueled inflated expectations. Supporters acknowledged this week that an allied super PAC was likely to fall short — perhaps substantially — of predictions that it would bring in $100 million in the first half of the year.
On the stump, Bush has stuck to his pledge not to shift to the right to win the primary, but his middle-of-the-road positions on immigration and education have come off more as out of step with the base of his party than shrewdly pragmatic. His wonky question-and-answer exchanges with voters sometimes resemble college lectures rather than a disarming appeal for votes.
The troubles have eroded the image Bush has sought to present as the one Republican uniquely ready for the presidential stage. He has slipped in polls from presumed front-runner to one of several candidates jumbled toward the top of an increasingly crowded field.