Some children want to be cowboys, astronauts, or pro athletes. I wanted to be conservative America’s premiere “Romney 2016?” trollblogger.
Live your dreams, my friends.
It may not be only the right flank of the Republican party that’s crowded in 2016. Mitt Romney is more open to a third presidential bid than ever before, according to friends and top donors of the former Massachusetts governor, which means there might be a bloody battle on the establishment side of the field as well.
“The governor is preserving his options — that’s the message I’ve gotten from Boston,” says Robert O’Brien, a Los Angeles lawyer who served as a foreign-policy adviser on Romney’s 2012 campaign. When I spoke with O’Brien in December, he told me that Romney was not considering a 2016 run but that “circumstances could change.”
In Romney world, the thinking about a 2016 bid has ratcheted up, and his top donors, most of whom remain quite loyal, have gotten the signal. O’Brien tells me that the shift in his own language reflects what he’s hearing from Romney and his team in Boston, which right now consists only of Spencer Zwick, who served as finance director on both of Romney’s presidential campaigns, and Zwick’s deputy, Matt Waldrip. Both Zwick and Waldrip work with Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, at the Boston-based private-equity firm Solamere Capital. O’Brien has spoken with a number of key donors who have relayed their hope the governor will run; they are sending him the message, either directly or through former staffers, that they want him in the race.
It’s not gonna happen. Even if, against all odds, Christie sobers up from his football-induced euphoria and realizes that he’s going nowhere in the primaries, especially now that Bush is in the race, there’s no way Romney will get in and risk splitting the establishment/centrist vote with Jeb. For him to do it, you’d need first to eliminate that risk by having the entire right side of the field implode — Rubio falters because of amnesty, Rand Paul falters because of foreign policy, Cruz falters because of his role in the shutdown, etc etc etc. Even then, someone like Jindal or Walker would probably pick up the disaffected conservative votes, not Jeb. Why would Romney sabotage a fellow establishmentarian like Bush and risk handing the nomination to a more right-wing candidate like Jindal or Walker by jumping in at that point and dividing the center? Even if every candidate on the right faded and Jeb raced out to an enormous, seemingly prohibitive lead, paint me a picture where the donor class would encourage Romney to disrupt Bush’s momentum by joining the race himself. The people who bankrolled Mitt three years ago and who’ll be bankrolling Jeb now may have mild preferences for one or the other of them, but ultimately they don’t much care which gets the nomination so long as a conservative doesn’t. Give me a scenario in which that calculus changes and suddenly there’s support in the monied center of the party for the idea that Jeb Bush himself must be stopped and there’s only one man to do it.
It’s not happening. But Bush, prudently, is taking no chances. Even before I encountered the phrase in the excerpt below, my thought upon reading the opening was “shock and awe.”
Jeb Bush’s allies are setting a fundraising goal of $100 million in the first three months of this year—including a whopping $25 million haul in Florida—in an effort to winnow the potential Republican presidential primary field with an audacious display of financial strength.
The targets were confirmed by multiple Republican sources involved in finance meetings with Bush’s team. They requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. One said the point is to persuade some establishment candidates to stay on the sidelines in the 2016 race.
The attempt to intimidate the wide-open field with a shock-and-awe fundraising machine echoes the strategy Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, used to win the White House in 2000. In 1999, then-Texas Governor Bush raised $37 million in the first half of the year and $29 million in the third quarter, breaking records and pressuring other contenders, such as Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, John Kasich, and Lamar Alexander, to end their campaigns swiftly or decide not to start one.
That won’t scare Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, who are depending on a different base of donors for their own funding, but it’ll make Christie, Walker, and Rubio think twice — especially Rubio, given the $25 million figure cited here for Florida. Essentially, Jeb’s trying to lock up the “invisible primary” among the donor class before anyone else is even in the race. Where would that leave Romney? His inner circle assured Eliana Johnson that the money will be there if they need it (an estimated $75 million) and claimed they could get by with just a fifth of the donors they had in 2012 if need be. Assuming that’s true, though, we still end up with an establishment nightmare scenario in which Jeb and Mitt are in an arms race while someone like Paul speeds along, possibly consolidating tea partiers and “somewhat conservatives” with his heterodox platform along the way. Makes me wonder if Jeb isn’t following the “shock and awe” strategy with some misgivings: If it succeeds too well, scaring off someone like Huckabee who’d otherwise be useful to him in siphoning off votes from Paul and Cruz, he might end up with a smaller but less divided conservative field. And the more overwhelming his financial advantage, the easier it’ll be for opponents to portray him as the 800-pound establishmentarian gorilla in the field who must be stopped at all costs. Romney had the same problem in 2011, but he also had a conspicuously weak field opposing him. Jeb’s competition will be stronger. If this turns into an “Anyone But Bush” primary on the right, with a solid candidate like Walker in the race to channel that sentiment, what happens to Bush then?
Actually, maybe that’s Romney’s angle for a late entry in the race. Imagine it: A horrified conservative base, sifting through poll after poll this fall showing all of its Cruzes and Walkers trailing Jeb badly in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, prays for someone, anyone to jump in and save them from a third Bush presidency. And the white knight, the deus ex machina who rides in at the last moment to give tea partiers a glimmer of hope, is … Mitt Romney. I’ll be there to blog it. Every damned day.
Update: In my own small way, I … can’t help but feel partly responsible for this.
Alternate headline: “Greatest day of drama-hungry blogger’s life.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney , the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, told a meeting of donors Friday that he is considering another White House bid in 2016, people present said…
The former Massachusetts governor didn’t give a timetable for making a decision about another White House run, but he cited unrest overseas as one of the reasons he’s considering another campaign. He also mentioned the long-term health of the economy…
At one point during the meeting, one of the attendees asked Mr. Romney if he wanted to be president, a person present said. The 2012 nominee said, yes, of course.
I’m going to spend the rest of this year writing trollish “McCain 2016?” posts to see if I can will him into the race too. Exit question via Ross Douthat, anticipating a centrist implosion as Romney and Jeb Bush tear the establishment apart: “The only question now is: Huckabee-Paul or Paul-Huckabee?”