The Slatest

Jeb Bush Shakes Up Campaign Before It Even Begins

Shake shake shake: Jeb Bush speaks at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 27, 2015.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Jeb Bush is shaking up his campaign before it even officially begins. The all-but-declared presidential candidate is set to finally jump into the race next week, but in the meantime he has reportedly reshuffled his staff after a few less-than-inspiring weeks on the trail. Here’s the Washington Post on the biggest move among several at the top of the campaign-to-be:

In a surprise move Monday, Bush tapped Republican strategist Danny Diaz to serve as his campaign manager, shoving aside another aide, David Kochel, to head his still-unofficial presidential operation. … The restructuring of Bush’s staff was unexpected given that Bush aides, donors and friends had said for months that Kochel — whom Bush successfully wooed away from Mitt Romney’s inner circle earlier this year — was poised to serve as campaign manager.

News of the shake-up comes after Bush’s supporters watched in horror last month as their man needed four tries—over four days—to answer the knowing-what-we-know-now hypothetical about the 2003 Iraq invasion, and generally struggled to decide whether he wants to run away from or toward the presidencies of his brother and father. Meanwhile, the onetime presumed GOP front-runner has fallen into a three-way tie atop a crowded GOP field nationally, and currently trails Scott Walker in Iowa by nearly double digits in RealClearPolitics’ rolling state polling average there.

Musical chairs-themed headlines are never good for a campaign, and the timing of these ones will only make things worse. The overhaul puts the campaign on the defensive ahead of next week’s announcement and threatens to overshadow Bush’s current trip to Europe, where he’ll speak at an economic summit in Berlin and generally try to burnish his foreign policy bona fides. Still, the Iowa caucuses are eight months away, and if Bush is able to right the ship between now and then, the last-second change that looks a little panicky today will look brilliantly decisive to those campaign obsessives who remember it. (Everyone else, meanwhile, will probably forget it ever happened, which would be nearly as good for Bush.)

As for what the staff shuffle means in practice, it’s worth noting that, as Politico points out, Diaz is well-versed in the dark arts of opposition research, which raises the possibility that Bush—who once said he hoped to campaign “joyfully”—may be ready to go negative.

Based on the off- and on-the-record quotes being shared about his soon-to-be campaign manager, the move should also inject some energy into a campaign that, aside from its fundraising prowess, has looked a little lackadaisical in the early going. The Post’s unnamed sources called Diaz a “lion” and a “tiger”—while a third was less flattering, calling him “a hair-on-fire guy” with a short temper. According to the New York Times’s more staid and diplomatic description, he “brings a level of high intensity to every campaign job he’s held.” Steve Schmidt, who worked on John McCain’ 2008 campaign, kept the motivational motif going, calling Diaz “the Jim Harbaugh of politics” (a description that would probably be more welcome if the hard-charging football coach hadn’t fallen short of winning the Super Bowl in his four seasons as the coach of the San Francisco 49ers). But perhaps my favorite description comes from Politico’s source who said, “I’ve worked with Danny, and he’s a [expletive] animal.”

Previously in Slate:

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.