Rich Republicans have lost it: Why are they so eager to give Jeb Bush their money?

The GOP establishment donor class just cannot wait to donate to Jeb '16 -- even if he's... Jeb Bush

Published October 7, 2014 2:38PM (EDT)

Jeb Bush                                  (Reuters/David Manning)
Jeb Bush (Reuters/David Manning)

Few things are more delightful than watching rich Republican donors who don't understand politics try to grapple with a wide-open GOP presidential primary field.

Usually there's some guy whose "turn" it is, and Karl Rove or whoever tells the donors who the guy is and they send big checks. There is no such person this year. But either Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush looks sort of president-y and has a moderate demeanor, at least, so sure, it will have to be one of them. This is what the rich people think, for 2016. "Mitt or Jeb?" They spend all of their time thinking about this. It doesn't ever occur to them that neither is a good fit for the current incarnation of the Republican party. Where do we send the check? Jeb will have to run, or Mitt. Where do we send the check? No one ever said being a rich Republican donor was easy.

Speaking of rich people: the big feature article marking the launch of Bloomberg news' deep-pocketed politics site is a piece about Jeb Bush, by Mark Halperin. There's a lot to look forward to about the new Bloomberg Politics. They have a fine stable of writers. Mark Halperin, who is being paid a $1 million salary, is not one of them. Here he is eating ice cream with Nancy Pelosi. One million dollars per year. And here is his big launch scoop: Jeb Bush may or may not run for president. One million dollars per year.

Halperin is not wholly without value, though. He's good at capturing the zeitgeist of the Republican moneyed class. We can ignore the parts in which Halperin offers his own prognostications about Jeb Bush's general election chances. (Halperin, for example, thinks that Jeb Bush could put New Jersey and California into play.) (One million dollars per year.) But the parts about how donors are waiting to unload a dump truck of cash atop Jeb Bush seems correct:

Jeb (along with Romney) is likely the only contestant who could keep pace with the expected Clinton haul in excess of $1.5 billion. “The Republican donor base will fall in line” behind Bush, says one of the party’s best and most experienced fundraisers. “There is no competition.”

Despite a near-total lack of spadework in the early states and among activists and bundlers, Bush could line up a team of campaign staffers, policy experts, and finance mavens at a moment’s notice. More to the point, he doesn’t have much ground to make up.  One long-time senior Republican official says of the other prospects, “None of them has done shit” to build an organization so far. “Bush will have the band put together in a day. He is the most prepared from a infrastructure point of view by light-years.” Unlike his competitors, Bush could lure donors off the fence in a hurry, without undergoing a hazing trial to test skill and stability. The train would fire up and chug away from the station at the git-go.

That Bush "could lure donors off the fence in a hurry, without undergoing a hazing trial to test skill and stability" is a brilliant summation of why rich Republican donors either (a) don't understand politics or (b) figure politics is an inexpensive game relative to their net worths, so whatever, throw a million or two at the guy and see what happens. (Much like Bloomberg's strategy with Mark Halperin.)

Republican voters, who have to vote in their presumed nominee through a primary process, are either indifferent or openly hostile to Jeb Bush. And Jeb Bush hasn't run a campaign since 2002, when online political media was basically just Matt Drudge and Andrew Sullivan posting war links. If there's any half-notable Republican candidate who's due for a "hazing trial to test skill and stability" before big-dollar investments are made, it's Jeb Bush. But donors follow this weirdly meta logic that Jeb Bush should get their funds because Jeb Bush is good at fundraising. Is he good at campaigning? Is he good at convincing Republican primary voters? Will they not want him because of his terrible brother? Will he find some way to ditch or, um, "deemphasize" his positions on education and immigration reform without anyone noticing? These are serious and glaringly obvious questions about Jeb Bush's political talents.

The sort of rich, Wall Street, Chamber of Commerce donors who'll fall in line for Jeb Bush seem to be making a critical mistake: that since they like Jeb Bush's brand of Republicanism, Jeb must be the frontrunner. It doesn't really work that way anymore.

But by all means, sink your investment at will!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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