Concerns are mounting among top donors and party elites that an influx of huge checks into the GOP primary will hurt the party’s chances of retaking the White House. Long-shot candidates propped up by super PACs and other big-money groups will be able to linger for months throwing damaging barbs at establishment favorites who offer a better chance of victory, the thinking goes.
Already, big-money groups have raised about $86 million to support a handful of second- and third-tier candidates — Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former CEO Carly Fiorina and former Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. In some cases, the lion’s share came from a handful of ultra-wealthy partisans, including a pair of Dallas billionaires who combined to give $11 million to a pro-Perry super PAC and a handful of donors who accounted for the majority of the $37 million reportedly raised by a pro-Cruz super PAC.
“A super PAC for a broadly successful candidate makes them doubly formidable. A super PAC for a marginal candidate keeps them alive. And that’s what’s different now,” said former President George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer.
As a point of reference, he cited the crowded GOP presidential primary in 2000, when he worked for Elizabeth Dole, one of the many candidates who dropped out before primary voting began due to insufficient fundraising. “That’s the way it used to be, and it helped sort out the race to the real contenders. The super PAC era is going to make it harder to sort out the race, and particularly for the Republicans, who have so many candidates to begin with, it just keeps the clutter going,” said Fleischer.
He helped lead a Republican National Committee forensic analysis of the GOP’s shortcomings in the 2012 election. It flagged the potential downsides of big-money spending in primaries, asserting “Super PAC money is a wild card that weakens our eventual nominee, regardless of who he or she is, due to the onslaught of negative ads against that candidate.”