The Republican presidential candidates are collecting billionaires like squirrels hoarding nuts for winter. And this cache of cash may keep at least several campaigns politically viable until the Texas GOP presidential primary next March.
The money primary usually is the great winnower of presidential hopefuls. Candidates who come out of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina underfunded simply do not have the money for the stretch run and frequently drop out before Texans vote in March. The advent of super Pacs in 2012 started changing that, with candidates spending a combined $10 million on television ads ahead of the Iowa caucus alone. Rick Perry spent $2.86 million on Iowa television advertising.
With the prospect that winning the nomination in 2016 could cost as much as $100 million apiece, the race is on for candidates to win over the billionaires—or as Molly Ivins would have called them, the oligarchs. White House hopefuls like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry are turning to people whose disposable income runs into the millions of dollars.
The billionaire buzz caught fire today with reports that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, were leaning to throwing their financial might behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. After listening to Walker speak at an exclusive New York gathering Monday, David Koch declared that Walker could defeat Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election, and Koch called Walker a “tremendous candidate.” In a statement later Monday, Koch denied that he was endorsing any candidate for president. The Kochs have said they plan to spend $889 million during the 2016 election cycle to promote candidates and their small-government philosophy. If they jump into the GOP nominating process, they could be a game-changer for the candidate they back. Though their fortune comes from Kansas-based Koch Industries, the brothers own refineries, pipelines and chemical technology operations in Texas, as well as Georgia-Pacific and the Matador Cattle Company, which covers 130,000 acres in the Caprock area.
When U.S. Senator Ted Cruz announced for president, my first thought was that he’d never have enough money to be anything other than an also-ran. A handful of billionaire donors disuaded me of that notion, and the Cruz campaign claimed it would quickly have $31 million in the bank. His biggest donor likely will be hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his family. Cruz’s money is coming through a series of super Pacs with names that are variations of Keep the Promise, managed by Austin attorney Dathan Voelter.
Former Governor Perry’s friends Mike Toomey and Ray Sullivan recently launched a super Pac for his second run, called the Opportunity and Freedom Pac. His leadership RickPac has a number of billionaires on the advisory board, but they tend to be folks like Red McCombs of San Antonio who have supported Perry during his years as governor. So far, Perry has not proved he can reboot with billionaires outside of Texas. The New York Daily News reported last month that Perry spoke to an exclusive group at the Carlyle Hotel, including hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, but it is one thing to take the measure of the man and another to write him a check.
Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who grew up in Lake Jackson and attended Baylor University, announced for president early this month and set up committees that allowed donors to give money to his presidential and Senate re-election campaigns at the same time. One critic called it “one-stop shopping for the busy billioinaire on the go.” Politico in February reported that Paul had bombed with high-dollar donors at a meeting organized by the Koch brothers by showing up without a tie while wearing jeans. Apparently, Paul failed in the denim primary.
Texas-born former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has set a goal of raising $100 million, but so far he is not racking up the uber-wealthy donors. In fact, one left-leaning billionaire, Tom Steyer, has said he will target Bush over his skepticism on climate change. And that may have played some role when Bush last week waffled in New Hampshire by saying, “The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that.” While Bush may not be landing the billionaires, another Florida politician and presidential aspirant is—Marco Rubio has the backing of an 82-year-old billionaire who reportedly has an “intense distaste for Bush.”
Between now and the election, Hillary Clinton and whatever other Democrats emerge will pick up their own cadre of billionaire backers, but at the moment, the serious money game is on the Republican side.
While the primary calendar is not set, it essentially goes like this: Iowa caucuses on January 18; New Hampshire primary on January 28; New York, February 2; South Carolina, February 20; North Carolina, February 23; and then Texas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia on March 1.
There are approximately 315 days between now and the Texas GOP presidential primary—plenty of time for those moments that can make or break a candidate. Right now, though, the clear winners are the billionaires who are bankrolling the campaigns.