GOP's bloody '16 nightmare: Why rich donors' dream of party unity is doomed

Top GOP donors just want to pick a presidential candidate and wrap things up quickly. Sorry, not gonna happen

Published December 9, 2014 11:58AM (EST)

  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Photo collage by Salon)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Photo collage by Salon)

Welcome to the latest edition of a recurring Salon series: Clueless Rich Republican Donors Get Confused Trying to Figure Out Which Guy to Send Their Checks To.

For a while the competition, at least among the leading set of establishment finance/business-wing donors to the party, has been between Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. If Jeb Bush doesn't run, they think, they can send all their money to Mitt, because that's proven to be such a successful investment in the past two presidential election cycles. But what if Mitt and Jeb both run? What if neither runs and one of the knuckleheads wins? Yeesh! Well, no one ever said it was easy to be a rich Republican Wall Street donor person. (It is.)

A New York Times report on the jockeying within this most monied sector of the Republican donor world suggests that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is back in the mix for possible recipients, too. That means he has either healed his reputation among donors following Bridgegate, or his own advisers are just telling the New York Times that their boss is in the mix. Probably some combination of the two.

The Times report states that these "establishment" donors "have begun privately discussing how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party’s banner in 2016."

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.

“If you are philosophically a center-right donor, I think you have an interest in clearing the field,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a top Republican fund-raiser in Virginia with ties to Mr. Romney and the Bush family. “I think that’s important because there is clearly going to be a competition of philosophies for who is going to be the presidential nominee. And I firmly believe that person has to be from the center-right.”

It would be great for the "establishment" if they could unify around a particular candidate for the greater good when the primary starts. The easiest way this works out for them is if neither Jeb Bush nor Mitt Romney decides to run, and the "establishment" slot becomes by default Chris Christie's, since he's almost certainly running. That's not optimal either, though, since he's the loosest cannon of the three and will likely be caught at least a half-dozen times, on camera, telling grannies in Nashua to go fuck themselves.

Even if they can put egos aside and funnel their largesses through a single establishment vessel, though, they're still, naively as always, trying to manufacture a Utopia: a bloodless presidential primary process. They "[fear] that a prolonged primary would bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton." They may overstate the significance of a prolonged primary, especially as the RNC is holding its 2016 convention -- i.e., getting the general election started -- in June. Still, it would be nice and dandy to minimize the primary infighting, and these donors are the sort of control freaks who expect to get what they want.

There's just no way that's going to happen in this Republican Party. Consider how fat the target would be on Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or Mitt Romney once word got out that the Republican Wall Street Establishment had secretly picked, and marshaled its resources around, one of these dirty RINO frauds. That would go over poorly with conservatives, aka "Republican presidential primary voters." Whoever they pick would probably collapse to about 5 percent in the polls ... right around where Christie and Bush already are, actually, and where Mitt Romney might be soon after he returns to the frenzied context of electoral politics. It would not be good if the establishment donors picked a candidate whom members of the "real" Republican Party do not like. But hey, you try telling them that.

These donors are going to have to accept that this will be a comically bloody affair no matter what strategy they devise to manipulate it. And if they try to manipulate it hard from the outset, by lining up behind a single establishment figure, they may just provoke a backlash that makes it bloodier than it otherwise would have been.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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