Damage Control

Jeb Bush Tries to Reassure Jittery Donors After Lackluster Debate

The former GOP front-runner continues to try to quell doubts about his candidacy.

Jeb Bush’s Bad Debate Night: Can He Recover?

For the second time in the past week, Jeb Bush attempted to reassure anxious donors that his presidential campaign was still in good shape. 

Bush delivered his latest glass-half-full message on a Thursday afternoon conference call, one day after Wednesday night's admittedly sub-par debate performance, as some of his financiers worry that his move to confront one-time protégé Senator Marco Rubio backfired badly. During the short call with his top donors, Bush acknowledged the debate wasn't his best and vowed to “improve every day,” according to one donor given anonymity to discuss the private conversation. The donor described Bush as sounding upbeat and eager to return to the campaign trail.

“I'm not a soundbite guy,” Bush told the group, referring to the debate. “I'm a substance guy.”

Bush took a pair of questions, one about an endorsement announced Thursday from former U.S. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, another about his book being published next week. He finished the call saying he was going to hit the gym, and then get back on the trail.

Top Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw also spoke on the call, telling donors that the campaign would continue talking about Rubio's missed votes in the Senate and promoting Bush's record “as the strongest in the field,” according to second Republican on the call.

Bradshaw joked with the group that many of the donors who encouraged the campaign last week to talk about Rubio's missed votes were now the same ones saying they shouldn't be talking about the missed votes.

She didn't make any excuses for the widely panned debate performance and acknowledged it was a tough night, a third Bush donor and bundler who was on the call said.

The call comes just four days after Bush met with fundraisers in Houston in an attempt to assure them he had a plan to mount a comeback and win the Republican primary. “I wake up every day” energized about the campaign, Bush said on Sunday, according one of the donors in attendance. “I know how to fix it and I will fix it.”  

Bush's struggling campaign announced last week that it was cutting back its budget by 45 percent amid middling poll numbers and a slowdown in fundraising. Set against this backdrop, Bush could ill-afford to be perceived as failing to live up to expectations in Wednesday night's debate. 

On Thursday, Bush, campaign manager Danny Diaz, and debate adviser Peter Flaherty flew to New Hampshire and they talked over what went right and wrong on Wednesday night, the Bush bundler said, adding that Bush will be ready for the next debate without telegraphing what he'll do.

Rick Wilson, an unaffiliated Florida-based Republican strategist, called Bush's decision to go after Rubio's missed votes “stupid.”

“I think it may not be fatal, but Jeb needs a win somewhere, somehow very soon,” he said in an e-mail. “He's got to move his poll numbers (or take down [Donald] Trump's), demonstrate that he's a winner. Without that, the money people are going to get very quiet.”

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