In 2012, the ultimately unsuccessful Romney effort may have lacked a smart strategy or a perfect candidate, but money was no problem. Romney's network of donors helped finance a billion-dollar campaign. With Romney opting out of 2016's political scrum, all those hedge-fund managers, corporate chieftans and bored billionaires now need to find a new place to invest their political play money.
There are about 300 mega-donors who pay the bills for Republicans. With as many as a dozen contenders trying to put themselves in a good position for a run at the GOP nomination, the question is whether donors will get behind just one or two of them or, instead, spread their money so widely that no one gains a substantial advantage. The people who have vast personal wealth or are experts at bundling the wealth of others tend to favor the candidates most likely to protect and defend the interests of the rich. They are wary of those who seem too eager to lead a social crusade, especially if one of the targets of such a crusade is Wall Street.
As a result, a
Rubio, the freshman senator whose political career in Florida sprouted and grew as fast as a mangrove in the Everglades, is also acceptable because his robust right-wing views are balanced by a conventional personal style. Recently, Rubio proved his appeal at an economic forum in Rancho Mirage sponsored by the billionaire Koch Brothers. While Rand Paul turned off the mega-donors with his blue jeans, cowboy boots and suspicious economic ideas, Rubio was a big hit in his well-cut blue suit, starched white shirt and crimson tie. They also liked his pro-growth talking points. Rubio's reward was to take first place in a straw poll of the donors.
Following the money will be an interesting game in the coming weeks. Romney started the primary season in 2012 way ahead in the race for dollars. Though he was tested along the way by Newt Gingrich and
Christie and Bush would both love to be the new Romney in the eyes of top contributors, but they could face stiff competition for that designation from Rubio and Walker.