Look out Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the political world no longer thinks you will be the only real contenders for Florida's March 15 presidential primary. In our latest Florida Insider Poll, nearly 80 percent of the savvy Sunshine State politicos surveyed predict that Donald Trump will be on the ballot as well.
"The Trump bubble is certainly not going to burst as early as many of us expected — he is here for a while," lamented one Republican.
Many Republican leaders had expected Trump's candidacy to fizzle out by now, but he continues to lead in most polls. Trump still being in the race by mid March is not the same thing as Trump winning the Sunshine State, however. Two-thirds of the Florida Insiders predicted Bush will win Florida's primary and ultimately the Republican nomination.
"2016 race certainly getting stranger by the day — but only Jeb has the resources & campaign organization to wait out the Trump bubble until it bursts. Trump is currently the anti-Bush option — he is allowing no one else to grab that mantle with any certainty — that helps Jeb long term," said one Republican. "End of the day, Jeb emerges and wins a very tough fight for the nomination. Followed by an even tougher fight in the fall that will also see him prevail."
This is an unscientific survey of 150 members of Florida's political elite — campaign professionals, lobbyists, recovering politicians, fundraisers, and the like. It reflects the thinking of Florida's political establishment.
"Even though many of them are my friends, I will admit that it's fun watching the daily meltdowns from within the consultant class over Teflon Trump's inability to bleed when cut," one Republican confessed.
Many of our Florida Insiders are currently working on or helping the Bush campaign or worked with him before. We allow anonymity to encourage honest answers, but this is hardly neutral and unbiased analysis.
"I could only dream of a 2016 GOP ticket with Donald Trump at the top, but unfortunately I don't think that is going to be a reality," said one Democrat. "I have faith that at some point, GOP voters will wake up and realize they don't want someone who will make a mockery of the presidency at the top of their ticket."
From a Republican: "I think the debates will ultimately unwind Trump. At some point, you must become specific on your position on public policy issues, not just fire bullets. In 2002, when Jeb Bush and Bill McBride were virtually tied going into the last debate, McBride (God rest his soul) could not articulate his position on how he would pay for his plan to improve schools in Florida. The race was over that night."
More than 85 percent of the Florida Insiders surveyed predicted Bush would win the Florida primary, which awards every delegate to the winner. In late May, 30 percent of the Insiders said they expected Rubio to win, but probably reflecting his lower profile lately, this month only about 9 percent did. Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz each picked up a handful of Insider votes for winning Florida's GOP primary.
More than three-quarters doubted Trump would run as a third-party candidate (though several Democrats said they are keeping their fingers crossed).
"So much for the best Republican field in a generation," said a Republican predicting Hillary Rodham Clinton will wind up in the White House.
Only 36 percent of our Insiders predicted Clinton will win the general election, which is about the same percentage of this month's Insiders who are Democrats.
This month's Florida Insiders included 53 Democrats, 86 Republicans and 11 people registered to neither major party. They are listed on the Buzz blog at tampabay.com/buzz.
Trump started it
Trump this week injected "anchor babies" into the immigration debate and Bush and Rubio were pulled in. Both got burned, in different ways.
Rubio and Bush sought to massage the issue, saying they did not want to get rid of the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship but do want a crackdown on clear abuses. But Bush made the political mistake of calling the children "anchor babies," which some consider a slur.
Clinton, who is dealing with a growing email problem and may need a distraction, jumped all over Bush with tweets and a video. Rubio, true to form, used more finesse. He said that abuses should be looked at but didn't say "anchor babies," calling such children "human beings" in an appearance on CNBC.
That provoked unwanted problems on Rubio's right. Twitter and a story on Breitbart News are littered with scorching comments that harken back to Marco "Amnesty" Rubio, who helped write the Senate's comprehensive migration bill.
In a final twist Thursday, Bush called attention to his rival's past. Rubio was born in Miami in 1971, four years before his Cuban-immigrant parents became citizens. So while his parents were legal residents for a decade, as Rubio told Fox News on Thursday night, he's a technical beneficiary of birthright citizenship. (Birthers enter stage right.)