The “Sheldon Adelson Primary” Primary

It’s becoming clearer every day that one of the big story lines of Campaign ’16 GOP Edition is going to be a Super-PAC presence that makes the stuff that happened in 2012 look like penny-ante poker. According to Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt, Marco Rubio has him a Super-PAC sugar daddy who’s going to race past the records set by Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess in personal investments in presidential candidates last time out, in part because said sugar daddy, an 82-year old billionaire named Norman Braman, is motivated not just by love for Rubio but by a serious grudge against Jeb Bush:

The Miami businessman, Braman’s friends say, is considering spending anywhere from $10 million to $25 million — and possibly even more — on Rubio’s behalf, a cash stake that could potentially alter the course of the Republican race by enabling the Florida senator to wage a protracted fight for the nomination.

The investment is as much a reflection of Braman’s regard for Rubio as it is for his distaste for the GOP’s other Florida-based presidential hopeful. Over the past decade, Braman, who has a fondness for art, American history and luxury cars, has nursed a grudge against Bush that he’s now positioned to act on with a vengeance.

At issue is Bush’s 2004 veto of $2 million in state funds that had been allocated for the Braman Breast Cancer Institute. Braman had established the center at the University of Miami two years earlier after his wife’s sister was diagnosed with the disease, seeding it with $5 million of his own funds.

Braman is both a benefactor and a friend to Rubio, and their close relationship dates back to when the now-presidential candidate was ascending the ranks of the state Legislature. Over dinners at Braman’s Indian Creek Island mansion, which is adorned with priceless artwork and Civil War artifacts, the two bonded over everything from their shared love of football to their affinity for Israel. He employs Rubio’s wife, Jeannette, part time through his charity, the Braman Family Foundation. After Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 — a race that Braman and his wife Irma poured nearly $10,000 into — the two families traveled together to Israel.

In his recently published memoir, Rubio dedicated an entire paragraph of the acknowledgments to Braman and suggested that he’d become a father-like figure to him. Braman’s “advice, interest in my growth as a father and husband and pride in my accomplishments remind me of the role my grandfather and father once played,” he wrote.

Father-figure, sugar-daddy, whatever. This sort of relationship makes a mockery of the distance candidates are supposed to maintain with Super-PACs, and makes it clearer than ever that what we are really seeing is a return to the days prior to campaign finance regulation, when, for example, insurance executive Clement Stone gave what was then considered ridiculous amounts of money to Richard Nixon’s campaigns.

In any event, following this sort of thing is going to get complicated. Going into this cycle, there was talk of a “Sheldon Adelson Primary” to see which GOP presidential candidate (or candidates) would do back-flips for Bibi Netanyahu in order to gain access to checkbook of the global casino mogul (and Heavy Figure in Israeli politics as well). That is still happening, but there also could be an emerging competition among Super-PAC donors to see who can have a bigger impact on the nomination contest. Could be they’ll cancel each other out, just as the enormous general election spending in presidential races tends to wind up being neutralized so long as it’s not one-sided. And for candidates, of course, the primary within the primary is to identify the most generous sugar-daddy making the least specific and public demands.

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.