The GOP's pathetic money groveling: Why the Republican nomination will go to the highest bidder

The entire 2016 field is cozying up to billionaires for a chance at winning the White House

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 24, 2015 10:00AM (EDT)

  (AP/Timothy D. Easley/Reuters/Adrees Latif/AP/Tony Gutierrez)
(AP/Timothy D. Easley/Reuters/Adrees Latif/AP/Tony Gutierrez)

If there's one thing the Republican field's disgusting groveling for cash should show us once and for all, it's how much money it takes to buy a nomination. This "donor primary" is shaping up to be as hard fought as any down-and-dirty local election between a hard core Tea Partyer and an old school main-street conservative. The amount of money being collected is going to be breathtaking. The main question now is whether or not the candidates can even find enough places to spend it all. (One imagines that political strategists and campaign operatives will be happy to stash some of it in their pockets.)

Still, it is a bit startling to see a hardcore rightwing firebrand like Ted Cruz cozying up to gay New Yorkers, even if they are billionaires:

[O]n Monday night, at a reception for him at the Manhattan apartment of two prominent gay hoteliers, the Texas senator struck quite a different tone. During the gathering, according to two attendees, Mr. Cruz said he would have no problem if one of his daughters was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states. The dinner and “fireside chat” for about a dozen people with Mr. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, was at the Central Park South penthouse of Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, longtime business partners who were once a couple and who have been pioneers in the gay hospitality industry. “Ted Cruz said, ‘If one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much,’” recalled Mr. Reisner, a same-sex marriage proponent who described himself as simply an attendee at Mr. Weiderpass’s event. Mr. Reisner and Kalman Sporn, who advises Mr. Cruz’s Middle East team and served as the moderator for the evening, said that the senator told the group that marriage should be left up to the states.

It seems like only yesterday that he was saying gays were waging "jihad" on good God fearing Christians. Well, actually it was two weeks ago:

[T]he GOP hopeful told a crowd of homeschooling activists to beware “the jihad that is being waged right now in Indiana and Arkansas, going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” “We need to bring people together,” Cruz said, adding that Republicans and Democrats used to be in agreement about religious liberty and, he implies, condoning discrimination.

At that nice dinner party in Manhattan he went to some lengths to point out that one of his best donors is gay, the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, so that's nice.

Why any gay people, billionaires or not, would be attracted to someone like Ted Cruz remains a mystery, but perhaps the tax accountant wants what the tax accountant wants. According to the article, the gay billionaires believe that gay marriage is a done deal, and now that the messy business is taken care of they are free to be conservatives again. They say they like Cruz for his extremely hawkish foreign policy which is, apparently, the new radical chic. 

Meanwhile, since Scott Walker's untimely little slip about being against legal immigration may have cost him their early endorsement, the Kochs have decided to hold more auditions later this summer. Walker's misfortune is the rest of the crowded field's gain as they all get a chance to hone their act for the Hundred Billion Dollar Boys. Until then, there are plenty of other filthy rich one-percenters on whom to practice their act.

As it stands today, the top candidate for leading man is the babyfaced Marco Rubio, who seems to be doing a much better job of finessing the GOPs immigration quagmire than Walker. Being Latino himself certainly doesn't hurt, but as my colleague Elias Isquith pointed out yesterday, his slipperiness on the issue is actually quite impressive:

After putting together a big, bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 — which passed the Senate only to die ignominiously in the House — Rubio has spent more than a year disowning his sole legislative accomplishment and urging heartbroken Tea Partiers to forgive him for his sins. His dalliance with “amnesty” didn’t mean anything; he promises he’ll “secure the border” first, if only they’ll give him the chance and take him back.

The whole incident was embarrassing and led to his being “unceremoniously defenestrated,” as BuzzFeed puts it, from the rarefied air of the 2016 elite. But now there’s reason to wonder if what looked like a blunder was really part of a larger scheme — or at least that’s what Rubio wants donors (and the BuzzFeed-reading political class) to think. Rubio’s onetime support of comprehensive reform, BuzzFeed reports, “has proved to be a substantial draw within the GOP money crowd.”

And I'd guess there are a few gay Republican billionaires to whom he'd be happy to whisper his personal tolerance for marriage equality too. You can't let Cruz corner the market, after all. Rubio would also certainly be one guy you could depend upon for a hawkish foreign policy, which seems to be a must among these super-rich puppet masters.

And what would you know, mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is smitten:

In recent weeks, Adelson, who spent $100 million on the 2012 campaign and could easily match that figure in 2016, has told friends that he views the Florida senator, whose hawkish defense views and unwavering support for Israel align with his own, as a fresh face who is “the future of the Republican Party.” He has also said that Rubio’s Cuban heritage and youth would give the party a strong opportunity to expand its brand and win the White House...

Since entering the Senate in 2011, Rubio has met privately with the mogul on a half-dozen occasions. In recent months, he‘s been calling Adelson about once every two weeks, providing him with meticulous updates on his nascent campaign. During a recent trip to New York City, Rubio took time out of his busy schedule to speak by phone with the megadonor.

Rubio really is a GOP dreamboat, isn't he? He even calls when he's on the road!

This donor primary is likely to get a little bit frantic with all the candidates jockeying for the role of the Republican party's leading man. Will it be the Wisconsin cheesecake Scott Walker, the Texas beefcake Ted Cruz or the spicy Cuban manwich Marco Rubio? And don't forget the rest of the chorus line. There's the B-Actor Jeb Bush who could turn in a credible, if not transcendent, performance, or the Wild Arkansas Preacher Mike Huckabee, along with a whole crew of character actors who could be in a position to step up if they are given the chance. It's wide open. If nothing else the contest should be wildly entertaining for the rest of us.

The only problem for the billionaires is that these candidates all have to eventually perform in a series of tryouts we call "party primaries" where the audience, also known as voters, gets a chance to weigh in. They may not agree with the billionaires' choice, no matter which lucky fella they anoint in their auditions. Democracy is such an inconvenience that way.

These rich donors obviously believe that founder John Jay had it right when he said, "Those who own the country ought to govern it." Unfortunately for them, he was outvoted.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Campaign Finance Elections 2016 Marco Rubio Peter Thiel Sheldon Adelson Ted Cruz