Marco Rubio and the Magic of Self-Made SuperPACS

For those of us who find the world of Republican fundraising scary and somewhat inscrutable, Bloomberg Politics‘ Julie Bykowicz has an interesting angle today, arguing there is a group of especially rich and especially political donors–you know, the kind who can personally fund a SuperPAC–who are cold to a Son of Privilege like Jeb Bush, and are showing signs of reacting well to Marco Rubio’s whole Alger Horatio story.

Now I’d take this whole line of reasoning with a shaker of salt. Ultimately most of these guys are focused not on a candidate’s “narrative” but on his or her ability to help the donor get even crazier rich than ever. Even the overtly eccentric Sheldon Adelson, whom Bykowicz fingers as a likely sucker for the Rubio pitch, shut off Newt Gingrich’s 2012 credit line the minute it made good business sense, and wound up giving a lot more money to Establishment icon Mitt Romney than he ever gave to Newt.

What does ring true, however, is the enjoyment these people get from being unpredictable. Here’s a 2012 anecdote:

Bundling money for an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush is a highly organized, quasi-corporate affair. Attracting a super-donor is a more mercurial process. Consider what happened for Rick Santorum in the beginning months of 2012. Going into Iowa, Santorum and a supportive super-PAC had raised a combined $3 million, compared to the Romney campaign-plus-super-PAC juggernaut’s $87 million, Federal Election Commission reports from the end of 2011 show.

Then, Santorum eked out a victory in the Iowa caucuses.

Huge checks from a mysterious donor began to arrive to his super-PAC. “Some guy sent in a million dollars, we had no idea who he was,” Foster Friess, the multimillionaire donor who ran Santorum’s super-PAC, told Bloomberg Television at the time. “The money just suddenly appeared. No one made a call.”

“Some guy” turned out to be William Dore, a Louisiana energy executive who’d grown up in a two-bedroom house with no hot water. As Santorum surged to unexpected primary victories in places like Colorado and Missouri, the Doré checks kept coming. By the end of the primary, he’d become one of Santorum’s top two donors, having given the super-PAC $2.25 million.

The thing is, any candidate, not just Rubio, can imagine this sort of financial bonanza happening to them. Nobody’s got a better “story” than Bobby Jindal. I gather Mike Huckabee can be very charming one-on-one. Ted Cruz has never left anyone he’s met unimpressed, even if it’s just the lingering smell of brimstone when he leaves the room. And Scott Walker’s union-bashing speciality is probably of great visceral interest to “self-made” billionaires who, like Adelson, tend to hate unions passionately.

So the bottom line is that you’ve got Jeb with an awful lot of corporate money, but there’s an awful lot of “wildcat” money that could keep others in the race. The question is, how many people not named Bush can come up with the scratch to stay competitive? Bykowicz clearly thinks Rubio’s one of them.

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.