In the immediate aftermath of their emphatic defeat in 2012, the monied mega-donors and professional operatives who run the GOP took solace in what then seemed like a dazzling, diverse roster of talented politicians and outsize personalities eminently equipped to lead the party out of the wilderness.
But after a brutal year of setbacks, scandals, and political floundering capped this month by a controversy that threatens to sink New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political career, the Republican establishment is warily scanning its bruised and bloodied field of potential 2016 standard-bearers — and many of the party poobahs are on the brink of panic.
In interviews with more than a dozen party officials, fundraisers, and strategists in New York and Washington over the past 10 days, Republicans described a palpable sense of anxiety gripping the GOP establishment in the wake of Christie’s meltdown, and an emerging consensus that the once promising cast of candidates they were counting on to save the GOP from the tea party — and the nation from Hillary Clinton — is looking less formidable by the week.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — declared “The Republican Savior” on the cover of Time magazine last January — fell from grace after his attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and his subsequent flip-flop on the bill, was met with revolt from the right, and a chorus of scorn from the left. Meanwhile, the establishment’s other favorite son, Jeb Bush, virtually vanished after half-heartedly feeding the 2016 buzz during his short-lived book tour last spring. Since then, he has shown little interest in building a presidential campaign, and on Thursday his own mother said she hopes he doesn’t run.
I suspect a few of the poohbahs Coppins is talking to are having very bad flashbacks to the runup to 2012, when such (to them, anyway) promising Establishment candidates as jebbie, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour stumbled, faded or simply took a pass, leaving them with a field dominated by a disgraced former Speaker, a Talk Radio guy, a former senator who seemed to be dabbling in Falangism, a redneck governor with foot-in-mouth disease, and a perennial candidate obsessed with monetary policy–plus the serviceable if unexciting Mitt Romney. Indeed, Coppins found an unlikely reservoir of Mitt Nostalgia:
[W]ithout a clear, top-tier establishment alternative to hitch their wagon to, many donors are left with a menu of less-than-ideal options, ranging from right-wing firebrands like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to B-team governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin or John Kasich of Ohio.
In fact, it’s gotten so bad, the operative said, that some donors have started looking back fondly on the good old days of 2012: “You know what a lot of them say to me? I think we need Mitt back.”
That’s about as bad a sign as you could imagine.