That Bush's team would believe it's in his best interest to send away a top strategist is an emphatic indication that the era of super PAC supremacy has arrived. Viewed at the outset of the 2012 presidential cycle as illegitimate if not downright unethical—so much so that President Obama initially forbade his lieutenants from forming one on his behalf—super PACs emerged by Election Day 2012 as the most devastating force in modern presidential politics. Their ability to raise bottomless money, and the deployment of those funds toward destroying rival candidates, instantly altered the political landscape, and in the 2016 campaign's nascent stages, their reach has dwarfed that of official campaigns.
When presidential contenders Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio officially jumped into the presidential race in recent weeks, each was accompanied by at least one supportive super PAC. Allies of Cruz operating a constellation of super PACs have bragged about pulling in $31 million in a single week—nearly eight times the haul Cruz's official campaign team had been boasting about. Others, like Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry, are officially still mulling whether to run, yet there are already supportive super PAC operations up and running.
"They have so radically changed the game that serious candidates for president cannot, will not be able to compete without a very substantial super PAC or set of super PACs," says Gregg Phillips, who was a 2012 strategist for the pro–Newt Gingrich group Winning Our Future. "If you're a candidate, you have to raise money in $2,700 increments. If you're a super PAC, you can raise money in million-dollar chunks."
The PACs' newfound prominence, and their accompanying restrictions on communication, makes decisions about whom candidates tap to run his or her super PAC all the more complicated: It must be someone they trust, and someone who knows them well enough to channel their gut political instincts on matters of strategy and messaging, but not someone on whom the candidate depends for day-in, day-out counsel. (Those who are out of office, like Bush, are taking advantage of loose rules and enforcement to work in tandem with their super PACs during their pre-candidacy phase.)
Candidates are looking for the political equivalent of a perfect bridge partner, someone with whom they can continually cooperate without ever being able to coordinate—or ever ask for advice. The imperative for a candidate is to choose "someone you love but can live without," says Stuart Roy, who in 2012 advised the pro–Rick Santorum super PAC the Red White and Blue Fund. "It ranks right there with the top personnel decisions that a campaign makes for an entire cycle."