There was a lot of oohing and aahing this past weekend about Ted Cruz raising twice as much money, $12 million to $6 million, as Rubio in the third quarter. With good reason: It was further proof, after his surprisingly big haul earlier this year, that Cruz is a much better fundraiser than anyone expected an anti-establishmentarian with a grassroots base to be. And it suggested that Rubio, for all his charm, might be struggling with big donors at a moment when he’s supposed to be building momentum. In fairness to him, his lane of the “donor primary” is much more crowded than Cruz’s — he’s competing with Jeb Bush and centrists like Chris Christie whereas, for wealthy conservatives, Cruz is really the only game in town. Still, if all the buzz lately about Rubio surging past Jeb is true, you’d expect to see it translating into cash. And it hasn’t yet.
Last week, during a campaign swing through Las Vegas, Rubio held a meeting in Adelson’s offices at the Venetian Las Vegas, one of a number of five-star luxury casinos the billionaire mogul owns around the world. Adelson, seated at the head of his conference table, heaped praise on Rubio’s performance while he discussed the dynamics of the 2016 race. Those briefed on the meeting described it as short but said it had an air of importance, with the two joined by Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, and a pair of senior Adelson advisers, Rob Goldstein and Patrick Dumont.
Those close to Adelson — who spent more than $100 million on Republican candidates and causes during the 2012 campaign and has been aggressively courted by most would-be Republican nominees — stressed that the 82-year-old gambling magnate had made no final decision on whom he’d support but said that momentum had strongly shifted to the Florida senator. A formal endorsement, they said, could come as soon as the end of the month — and with it, the potential for a multimillion dollar contribution. With a net worth of $25.7 billion, according to Forbes, Adelson can afford to spend freely…
Rubio and Adelson have grown increasingly close, with the senator phoning the billionaire several times a month to provide in-depth updates on the state of his campaign. The two men also have detailed policy discussions, especially about international affairs and Israel — the latter a cause near and dear to the mogul. Adelson has long looked favorably on Rubio, a fellow son of immigrants. Two people familiar with his thinking said he has become increasingly confident in the senator’s political skills and believes he is the kind of fresh face the Republican Party needs in 2016. (An Adelson spokesman declined to comment.)
Adelson almost singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich going in 2012, donating more than $20 million to pro-Newt Super PACs. Rubio is a more formidable candidate than Gingrich was and he has stiffer competition in Bush, Cruz, and Trump than Newt had in Romney, so the sky’s potentially the limit in how much Adelson might spend to help him win this war. Jeb Bush’s famous money advantage in the race may well be up in smoke. Nor is Adelson the only megabucks Republican with whom Rubio’s met lately: He also held a meeting with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, according to Politico. Singer and Adelson have several things in common — they’re fantastically wealthy, they’re known for bringing friends and allies along with them when they back a candidate, compounding the windfall for their favored son, and (ta da!) they’re both known for being soft on immigration. And if you’re a billionaire Republican who wants to keep border hawks out of the White House, realistically your options are limited to Jeb Bush and Rubio. Why these guys prefer Marco to Jeb, only they know. Maybe it’s as simple as Rubio being a superior retail politician, maybe they just want a fresh face instead of a Bush retread, maybe they prefer to stand out rather than hiding in the giant crowd of wealthy Bush donors, or … maybe they’re grateful to the man who actually went to bat for amnesty as a member of the Gang of Eight, at great risk to his political career.
Here’s where I remind you that Rubio, for all his circumspection about immigration on the trail, reportedly hasn’t been shy about reminding rich donors that he was on their side on immigration when it counted.
According to a half-dozen Republican fundraisers and contributors who have been courted by the Rubio camp, the candidate’s aggressive advocacy for the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill has proved to be a substantial draw within the GOP money crowd — and his campaign has shown little hesitation about cashing in. Even as Rubio labors to publicly distance himself from the legislation so loathed by conservative primary voters, he and his aides have privately highlighted this line in his resume when soliciting support from the deep-pocketed donors in the party’s more moderate business wing…
It isn’t only committed Rubio donors who are swooning after hearing the candidate’s immigration spiel. During a press call in February with other pro-immigration figures in GOP fundraising, California-based fast food CEO Andrew Puzder said that regardless of whatever public murkiness might surround the senator’s position, Rubio had personally assured him he was still dedicated to the cause…
[E]very source interviewed said that no matter how radioactive Rubio’s immigration record might be to the right, it has done nothing but help him in this early stage of the primaries, when filling the campaign war chest is the chief concern. Two Republican fundraisers who have met with Rubio — requesting anonymity to candidly assess his efforts — even expressed surprise at how enthusiastic the candidate has seemed in private to promote his work on the Senate’s immigration bill, given his strong reluctance to do so in public.
I think the Adelson endorsement (and Singer et al. endorsements) are exactly but exactly what Rubio had in mind all along when he first agreed to join the Gang of Eight. I read a thousand posts and columns at the time wondering why he would risk all the goodwill he had amassed among conservatives by trying to sell a Schumer/McCain/Graham comprehensive bill that didn’t even insist on border security before granting legalization to illegals. This was, and is, the answer. Rubio knew that competition on the center-right for megadonors in 2016 would be hot, and he also knew that those megadonors would be reluctant to gamble on a first-term senator who looks like he’s in his early 30s, no matter how poised he might seem at the podium and how hawkish he might be on foreign policy. He needed a singular credential. And he knew what credential would set him apart from the Cruzes and the Walkers. He’s the only man running who actually did something to try to grant the donor class’s wish of a new amnesty, and he knew they’d be grateful. It’s worked out perfectly for him. (Needless to say, this is also why he refuses to this day to give up on a path to citizenship for illegals even though conservatives continue to boo him for it.) That’s why I’ve always said that however much you may disdain Rubio for his amnesty sellout, you should respect him as a shrewd forward-looking tactician. If he’s the nominee, he won’t get outmaneuvered in the general election. If he loses, it’ll be because there are simply too many Democrats at this point, given America’s current policy alignments, for a Republican to win.
In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with this.