New poll of New Hampshire has … Jeb Bush in second with 18%

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Do I dare post a poll with a glaring outlier result, conducted by a pollster with a C+ rating for accuracy by FiveThirtyEight, simply because I know the result will scare the pants off my readers?

You should know me well enough by now to know the answer to that question.

A new statewide New Hampshire poll reveals Donald Trump holding a significant lead over his Republican opponents with 35% of the vote. Jeb Bush surprisingly takes second with 18%, and John Kasich finishes third with 14%. The rest of the field included Marco Rubio at 9%, Ted Cruz at 8%, and Chris Christie getting 5%, despite a last minute endorsement from the Boston Herald. Among Democratic primary voters, Sanders holds a steady lead over Clinton of 52% to 44%.

“Bush’s performance may have been helped by the heavy spending on attack ads by his Super PAC, Right to Rise USA”, notes Marion Kinosian a Junior Political Communication major. Right to Rise has spent more than $65 million overall, including $12 million on ads in New Hampshire alone (opensecrets.org)

That’s from Emerson College, which RCP doesn’t even bother to track. HuffPo does track it, but you have to go back to late September in their poll digest to find Jeb Bush above 10 percent in any New Hampshire survey. In fact, follow the RCP link and note the green line showing Jeb’s polling average over time and you’ll see that the most remarkable trend in his numbers is how steady they’ve been. Since September, apart from a short blip earlier this month, he’s never been lower than seven percent and never higher than 9.3. RCP has him at eight percent even today, smack dab in the middle. The last four polls in NH before Emerson had him at seven, seven, eight, and nine points, nearly identical to Chris Christie in every case. I’m noting Emerson now in case a bunch of polls over the next three or four days suddenly show Jeb on the move, in which case we’ll point back to this as the first sign of Jebmentum. But until they do, there’s no reason to take this result seriously.

Worth noting: This makes three polls in a row where Jeb’s numbers are either comparable to, or (in Emerson’s case), noticeably higher than Marco Rubio’s. An ARG poll released this week had Rubio at nine percent and Bush at eight. A Boston Herald poll released shortly before that one had Bush at nine and Rubio at eight. None of those are major pollsters, though, and the two majors who polled the state last week — Fox News and CBS — each had Rubio at 13-14 percent with Jeb stuck back at seven percent. I’m inclined to believe those are right and Emerson/ARG/BH are wrong, but for what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight gives Rubio only a slightly better chance than Bush right now of winning New Hampshire:

53

I think most of the commentariat would be shocked to realize that the two Floridians have a roughly equal shot at NH at this point. Partly that’s because we’ve all spent eight months rubbernecking at how awful Jeb’s campaign has been and partly it’s because, on paper, Rubio has everything going for him — electable, next-gen, much better at the mic, and so on. Even the many millions Right to Rise has spent trying to destroy him shouldn’t — on paper — be enough to drag a rising star as bright as Marco down to parity with Bush 3.0 in the polls. And yet here we are. Conservatives I follow on Twitter have been stuck in a running debate lately (amid all the tweeting about Trump) over just how wrong or not wrong it is for Jeb to have seemingly ruined Rubio’s chances in New Hampshire with a barrage of attack ads. On the one hand, the guy’s just trying to win: Sink Rubio, hope that Kasich and Christie fade on their own (which Christie is certainly doing), and boom, Jeb is the center-right champion by process of elimination. On the other hand, is Jeb really trying to win? That is to say, does Jeb Bush really, honestly envision a scenario at this point where he’s crowned Republican nominee and the party doesn’t break into a thousand pieces? Jay Cost wonders:

Bush and Right to Rise have spent tens of millions trying to build up Bush’s popularity, but it has been an abject failure. The rivals he is trying to blow up, especially Rubio, are still substantially better positioned to take on Trump down the line, despite the negative advertising blitzes against them from Team Bush.

That is what makes the play so objectionable: the Bush campaign is trying to set up a race against Trump that the Bush campaign has no good reason to think Bush can win. And the odds are that all the Bush campaign will achieve is making more likely the calamitous nomination of Donald Trump. Yet Bush is determined to try to force a final showdown between him and Trump by dumping $20 million (so far) in negative ads against manifestly superior candidates…

In truth, there is another path for Bush. He likes to tell us that he has the experience and shown the good judgment to be a responsible steward of the national interest. For the sake of that interest, he could show some leadership now by dropping out, recognizing that he has no clear path to the nomination, and endorse one of the other, non-Trump candidates.

Normally, job one for a candidate’s campaign apparatus is getting that candidate elected. This year, though, because of the Trump X factor, job one for a conservative candidate is arguably stopping Trump before he rips the conservative coalition apart (assuming he hasn’t already). What’s more, Jeb Bush himself might tell you, disingenuously or not, that he agrees that that’s job one — although of course he’d also tell you that the surest way to stop Trump is by voting for him. Cost and others are agonizing because there’s just no way that that’s true: I find it hard to believe that even Jeb’s supporters, having absorbed eight months of populist radiation and knowing what his favorable rating looks like nowadays among Republicans, would tell you that Jeb Bush is your best bet to beat Trump. The rosiest scenario for Jeb is that he does somehow end up in a two-man race with Trump, takes one heavy blow after another from Trump en route to the nomination, and then watches as Trump’s entire coalition plus chunks of Cruz’s base stay home in disgust at the thought of adding another chapter to the Bush dynasty. I vastly prefer Bush to Trump on a personal level, but even I’d prefer a hard reboot of the GOP by nominating Trump, whatever that means for the general election, to rubber-stamping another Bush. And if a guy like me, who’s spent most of his time lately grumbling about Trump, feels that way, how must people less opposed to Trump feel about the prospect of a Trump/Bush race? Frankly, this is what Beltway Republicans deserve after talking Trump up in hopes that he’ll eliminate Cruz for them — a one-on-one race between Trump and their beloved Jeb in which Trump runs Bush off the field. And they may get it.

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