Mitt Romney was considered a weak front-runner in 2012, and he had three times the number of endorsement points as Bush has. John McCain, who was struggling in the summer of 2007, had 15 percentage points more of the endorsement share than Bush does right now. Meanwhile, Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, already had nearly 30 times the number of endorsement points and nearly 50 percentage points more of the endorsement share at this point in the 2000 race.
Instead, the closest comparison to the 2016 GOP endorsement race may be past Democratic free-for-alls. In the 1988 contest, Dick Gephardt won a lot of House endorsements because he was chairing the House Democratic Caucus but didn’t fare all that well after voting began. Gephardt had the same problem when he ran in the 2004 race after serving as minority leader in the House…
But what about all that money that Bush’s super PAC is gobbling up?2 We’ve had just a few elections — and just one presidential election — since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the explosion of noncampaign spending. Analyses of presidential elections are plagued by small sample sizes. That is triply true for studies of post-Citizens United elections, making it hard to judge the effects of all that outside spending. But if you were trying to explain the eventual vote won by primary candidates using endorsements and campaign fundraising since 1980, you’d give the endorsement percentage earned roughly 2.5 times the weight of money raised.3 In other words, money tells us something. Endorsements tell us more.
In GOP races, campaign fundraising hasn’t been very predictive at all.