Donald Trump's entree into the GOP presidential race, along with his rapid ascent to commandeer the vast field, caught everyone in the political arena off-guard, particularly presumed front-runner Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida who wowed the electorate with his "shock-and-awe fundraising campaign," according to Politico.
Initially advised not to engage the notoriously pugnacious Trump, presumably to let him self-implode, Bush was drawn into the blustery billionaire's fray when Trump said Bush "has to like Mexican illegals because of his wife," who is a Mexican-American.
Since entering the race, Trump has "had no doubts as to which candidate he should be gunning for," according to according to Politico's Glenn Thrush and Alex Isenstadt. "'I'm not a fan of Jeb Bush,' he sneered at a rambling press availability in South Carolina last month. 'Jeb Bush is in favor of Common Core and he is weak on immigration. … Who would you rather have negotiating with China — Trump or Jeb?'"
Though privately Bush has referred to Trump as "a buffoon" and "clown, Politico reports, the former governor has responded to some of the Trump vitriol directed his way but avoided stooping to in-kind cheap shots.
What's more troubling to the Bush camp is Trump's grab of the GOP front-runner title, a designation presumed to go to Bush. It may or may not be a predictor of what's to come, according to Politico.
"Bush may yet emerge as the party's nominee, the third member of his family to claim the mantle, and his aides now claim Trump's bloviating presence in a record-shattering field of 17 could be a blessing, allowing Bush to fly under the radar," they write.
"But Trump's rise has coincided Bush's awkward return to the national stage, and he has proven to be gaffe-prone on the trail (Just this week he had to quickly walk back a statement that he wanted to defund "women's health" programs, when he meant to say abortion services). The party's conservative primary voters remain lukewarm and, as importantly, he hasn't scared rivals out of the race despite a massive $100 million-plus fundraising haul during his first few months in the race."
During an interview last month with NBC News' Lester Holt, Bush described Trump's unforeseen popularity with voters as a "phenomenon."
"I think he's captured the deep frustration that people feel," Bush said.
With an assist from the other candidates, Trump has successfully managed to paint Bush as "the big, bad establishment," a characterization bolstered by his super PAC's fundraising success.
But the impending presidential race may be less about Bush and Trump and more about "a crisis in the Republican Party," according to Thrush and Isenstadt, who note that despite controlling both houses of Congress, feuding between the establishment and tea party factions continues to rage.
"It's not the size of the field that worries Republicans, it's the length of the contest that it portends, the prospect of a bitter battle that drags into the June convention with a winner emerging too damaged to beat the Democrats in November."
The thought harkens memories of 2012 and how "the party's many divisions, and one that devalues the Republican brand" helped sink GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
"I think it could be worse this time," Romney senior political strategist Stuart Stevens told Politico. "You are going to have more money, with more super PACs keeping candidates alive. … There's a real possibility that you can have a different person win each of the first four contests — and that really is the 'Hunger Games' scenario."
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