Jeb Bush and John Connally share same presidential campaign Waterloos in South Carolina

February 28, 2016

During last Sunday’s Meet the Press, just after Jeb Bush withdrew from the Republican Presidential Primary, one of the panelists referred  to Bush as “the John Connally of the 2016 campaign”. He meant that both had raised more money than their opponents, and were establishment favorites. (Connally raised some $12 million–a remarkable sum for 1980, and Bush had a whopping $100 million-plus war chest. But both had met the same fate of a crushing defeat at the  ballot box in South Carolina, resulting in their withdrawals there.

Politico pointed out that in his unexpected defeat, Bush was not in bad company in joining “a small but distinguished club of illustrious political losers: those who could have won the presidency, should have won the presidency, but did not.” The list included Thomas Dewey, 1948′; Henry Clay, 1844; William Seward, 1860, and John Connally, 1980.

As part of Governor Connally’s team, I remember all too well his dark day of defeat in South Carolina.  We had  gone into the state with high expectations. Governor Jim Edwards and longtime U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond both were strong and active. supporters. But Ronald Reagan proved to be too much to overcome. He won decisively; we won only one delegate.

The day after remains vivid. The melancholy was deepened by the cold gray weather. Sheets of snow and ice had blanketed Columbia, the capital, for several days. As soon as we were ale to take off and fly back to Texas headquarters in Houston, Connally said, “Well, we need to call Haley (Barbour, his southern states director) and pull the plug.”  He was talking about discontinuing  further effort in those states facing primaries the weekend ahead.

There is one notable difference is comparing Jeb’s unexpected demise with that of Connally. The Governor’s campaign spent all of  the $12 million–and more, leaving a sizable debt, later retired with the help of a fundraising letter from President Reagan.  It is  good bet that Jeb’s campaign still has some money left from  his $100 million that will not be needed for any other state.

–Julian Read

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