The Corner

The Money Primary

Marco Rubio’s allies have insisted that he will make a decision about whether to run for president in 2016 independent of who else is running. That is to say, they’ve contended that a Jeb Bush bid would not preclude a Rubio bid. Theoretically. 

The Tampa Bay Times on Friday published a piece suggesting that it may do so practically, by depriving Rubio of his biggest financial backers in Florida. Many are quoted in the piece saying that, in a contest between Rubio and Bush, their loyalty belongs to Bush, who emerged on the political scene first and who, for many of them, provided an introduction to Rubio. 

“It’s nothing against Marco,” said John Thrasher, a former legislator who is now president of Florida State University. “Jeb has built up political capital over the years. It’s not just capital. These are people who have worked with him, understand him, and feel his time is here.”

Rubio, who at 43 is nearly two decades younger than Bush, enjoys loads of enthusiastic supporters among Florida’s deep pool of elite GOP fundraisers, but few, if any, of those top bundlers prefer him over Bush. It’s a simple fact of life for any Republican elected leader in Florida that even eight years after he left the governor’s office, Bush overshadows all. . . .

“It’s about loyalty. For so many of us who got into this game, you don’t forget the one who brought us to the dance. Jeb and his dad and his brother did that for us,” said Mike Hightower, another top fundraiser and former Duval County GOP chairman. “I’d say to Marco, ‘Sorry, but on this one I can’t help you. It’s not personal.’ . . .

Ana Navarro of Miami was among the earliest Republicans to actively raise money for Rubio in 2010 when almost no one felt he had a chance to beat Crist.

“The people that were big Marco fundraisers? Bar none, all of those people are Jeb people first,” Navarro said. “We love Jeb, and we love Marco. But we’ve loved Jeb longer.”

This is something I considered back in April when several Republican strategists, including Navarro, told me that were Bush to run, they could not see Rubio jumping in. Rubio’s allies say that during his 2010 run and since then, he has cultivated a different donor base. He was propelled to office in part by the Tea Party, which rose up in protest to bank bailouts of the George W. Bush administration, and has became a political force in his own right. 

Chris Christie, another potential establishment candidate, finds himself in a similar bind. Christie, too, rose to prominence on the back of the Bush network. His chief fundraiser, Bill Palatucci, is originally a Bush man: He ran George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign in New Jersey and paved the way for Christie’s nomination as U.S. attorney by introducing him to George W. Bush and then by sending Christie’s résumé off to Karl Rove. Reagan hand Ed Rollins put it this way:  

“I don’t think Christie doesn’t run,” said Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant who led Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign. “I just don’t think he’s going to get all that Bush money.”

That being said, donors are not rushing to Bush. He will have to demonstrate that he is not just a candidate for them, but for rank-and-file Republicans. That is what he will try to do in the months ahead. Until then, it’s wait-and-see. 

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