Can GOP Donors Clear ’16 Field?

Nick Confessore, the WaMo Contributing Editor who covers the money side of politics for the New York Times, has a fascinating piece up today about the efforts of big Republican donors to cull the 2016 presidential field in order to avoid intra-Establishment competition:

Dozens of the Republican Party’s leading presidential donors and fund-raisers have begun privately discussing how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party’s banner in 2016, fearing that a prolonged primary would bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate.

The conversations, described in interviews with a variety of the Republican Party’s most sought-after donors, are centered on the three potential candidates who have the largest existing base of major contributors and overlapping ties to the top tier of those who are uncommitted: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney.

All three are believed to be capable of raising the roughly $80 million in candidate and “super PAC” money that many Republican strategists and donors now believe will be required to win their party’s nomination.

There are several very interesting things about Nick’s report. First of all, there’s no mention of Sen. Marco Rubio, often advertised as a potential candidate who could serve as a bridge between the Establishment and the Tea Party. Second of all, despite Ann Romney’s public protestations that there’s no way her husband will run for president again, the money people who are his most important political allies clearly think he could run. Third of all, donors seem motivated in seeking a single champion almost as much by the pain of saying “no” to one of their favorites as by the competitive impact of multiple candidates. Fourth of all, the planted axiom that Christie, Bush or Romney would be the strongest Republican nominees against Hillary Clinton seems to be based strictly on their fundraising prowess, which most political scientists consider a vastly overrated asset in presidential general elections (so long as the two parties are roughly competitive). And fifth of all, the Daddy Warbucks wing of the GOP does not seem especially aware of the hate-rage that will break out among “movement conservatives” if the Establishment culls the field before “the base” weighs in. Hell, it could even spur a counter-crusade to pick a single True Conservative candidate, which would be bad news for the Establishment.

This bears close watching as the decision-making phase of the 2016 “invisible primary” approaches. I continue to be amazed at the confidence of GOP elites in the political strength of Bush, Christie and Romney. The first two continue to do relatively poorly in both nominating contest and general election polling; Bush in particular is saddled with problems that will never go away. And Mitt Romney would be the first defeated presidential nominee to attempt an immediate comeback since Hubert Humphrey in 1972. That’s a long time ago.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.