Jeb Bush, once a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is slashing pay across the board for his struggling campaign as he attempts to regain traction just 100 days before the party’s first nominating contest.
The campaign is removing some senior staff from the payroll, parting ways with some consultants, and downsizing its Miami headquarters to save more than $1 million per month and cut payroll by 40 percent this week, according to Bush campaign officials who requested anonymity to speak about internal changes. Senior leadership positions remain unchanged.
The campaign is also cutting back 45 percent of its budget, except for dollars earmarked for TV advertising and spending for voter contacts, such as phone calls and mailers. Some senior-level staff and consultants will continue to work with the campaign on a volunteer basis, while other junior-level consultants, primarily in finance but including other areas, will be let go, the officials said. The officials declined to say who would be removed from the payroll or provide an exact dollar figure for the savings. (A summary of the changes, provided to Bloomberg Politics by the campaign, is posted here.)
Bush's advisers, under pressure from their donors and from falling and stagnant poll numbers, have been discussing ways to retool the campaign in recent days, and came to the conclusion that a course correction was essential. While recent tangles with Donald Trump have energized the campaign, Bush's senior team recognized a more fundamental set of changes was required that didn't involve dealing directly with the party's surprising—and surprisingly durable—front-runner.
"The circumstances when we started the election were different," Bush told Pat Robertson in an interview at Regent University hours after news of the shakeup broke. "I have not met a person that thought that Donald Trump would be the front running candidate at this point. God bless him for his success in that regard, we’ll see how long that lasts. But you have to adapt.” He said his new "lean and mean" campaign will allow him to do that. "Every dollar we can save in overhead is a dollar that goes on television, goes on radio, goes on media, goes on voter outreach," Bush added.
Analysts and rival campaigns will view the changes as a desperate act, perhaps the last one, of a man whose campaign has dropped in the polls in recent months and has remained mired in the middle of a crowded field despite a month-long blitz of friendly television ads. None of the changes deal directly with what even many of Bush's supporters say is his main challenge: The burden of trying to convince voters hungry for change to choose a man whose father and brother both served as president.
Officials said the changes—the second time the campaign has cuts its payroll this year—will enable them to shift more resources into New Hampshire, where the campaign has the largest operation in the state, and other states where early voters begin casting ballots in February. There will be more volunteers and surrogates for Bush, which the campaign refers to as “friends of Jeb,” on the ground to help in a state that his brother lost in 2000 and his father won in 1988.
One Bush adviser told Bloomberg Politics in an interview Friday morning that the team was “unapologetic” about the changes, saying the moves were from a “position of strength.” “This is about winning the race,” the adviser said. “We’re doing it now and making the shifts with confidence. We expect to win.”
Bush plans to continue to focus on a core message that argues that he has experience to make the kinds of fundamental changes voters want to see in Washington. The campaign changes reflect that, an adviser said.
The campaign claims to have the most extensive field operation in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, states with the first four nominating contests. Bush had $10.3 million available for the primary race as of Oct. 1, about the same as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, but less than U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. Right to Rise USA, the super-PAC being run by Mike Murphy, raised $103 million in the first six months of the year.
Still, many thought Bush would keep the pole position heading into the 2016 primary calendar. But the former Florida governor and his advisers had little choice but to make the changes to redirect resources and attempt to create a new narrative for the campaign before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa and—more importantly for Bush—the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire.
In a presidential campaign cycle that has already seen stunning twists and turns, to see the presumed establishment front-runner, whose strength was based in part on his fundraising capacity, have to make these kinds of cuts, is one of the most surprising developments so far.
One of Bush's rivals, Carson, who leads in a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, was taken aback in an interview Friday morning that Bush is being forced to make some changes.
“This is a little bit surprising, but you know a lot of his money, of course, was super-PAC money as opposed to campaign money,” Carson said in an interview that will air on With All Due Respect today on Bloomberg TV. “That doesn't give you as much flexibility, quite frankly.”
The campaign said its internal measures showed that the month-long run of TV advertising is having an impact. “We need to double down and triple down in the early states,” another Bush official said.
Bush, who aides said was actively involved in the decision to cut back, will spend less time raising money and more time engaged in retail political events, such as town halls, meet-and-greets, and one-on-one meetings, advisers said.
Although Bush's long-time political adviser, Murphy, who now runs the pro-Bush super-PAC backing his candidacy, told Bloomberg Politics recently that Bush's strength in the March contests would earn him the nomination, the changes are an acknowledgement that Bush needs to first improve his standing in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
Symbolically, the changes turn Bush from an establishment battleship into a more scrappy underdog, making radical alterations in how the campaign operates in order to avoid the existential threat the campaign now faces. When his brother George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he was the fundraising leader from start to finish and never had to contemplate such draconian cuts.
The changes come a week after Danny Diaz, Bush’s campaign manager, sought to ease concerns about the amount of cash being spent by pointing to campaign’s robust operation in states with the earliest primary contests.
(Contributing: Arit John)