We’ve seen large numbers of undecided voters in the opinion polls already this campaign — but when it comes to the money people in the GOP, “undecided” appears to be an understatement. The New York Times tells us that of the approximately 1,000 bundlers (big money folks who fundraise on behalf of candidates) who backed Mitt Romney in 2012, only about 20% have donated any amount of money to any candidate this time around.
That’s a lot of money left sitting on the sidelines, and underscores how this race is developing: slowly. Voters and donors alike are hanging back, waiting and watching to see how things unfold. This is the largest field in history, and it appears that the money folks are waiting to see it winnowed a bit before committing to any candidate:
Those who remain uncommitted — hundreds of volunteer “bundlers” who could collect contributions from their friends and business associates — represent a huge pool of untapped campaign cash, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, that could remake the primary campaign.
Some of the bundlers and donors said they had held back, in part, because the field was the strongest they had seen in years, with several viable contenders representing the party’s different generational and ideological segments.
Hundreds of millions of dollars, sitting on the sidelines waiting to be donated. It makes sense – why risk an investment in a market with a 16- or 17-way split when you could wait until the best bet became a little more clear? Of course, conspiracy theorists could argue that these bundlers are waiting for the Draft Romney movement and will fill the coffers of their old candidate with hundreds of millions of dollars when he jumps in the race — but those people may need an invitation back to reality. This is not the year for White Knight candidates; in fact, it is the worst year for a white knight in recent history. This nine figure sum of money is not waiting for a worthy candidate – it is waiting to discern which of the worthy candidates is the strongest bet.
Of the 20% of bundlers who have actually donated money to campaigns, the leader so far is, perhaps surprisingly, Jeb Bush. The approximate percentage of Romney bundlers who are backing various candidates this time around:
Of course, we need to add “Undecided – 80%” to the bottom of that list. If and when that money starts pouring in, we could potentially see a whole new race take shape.
People don’t vote for candidates, they vote for an image.
That’s a general axiom Democrats seem to understand much better than Republicans at this stage of the game. Politics has always been about trying to market yourself — we can go all the way back to Abraham Lincoln’s campaign team famously choosing “Honest Abe” to market their candidate, for instance — and likewise, marketing your opponent as someone Jack and Jill Voter couldn’t pull the lever for. But in today’s intensely media-saturated, image-and-symbol driven culture, it matters more than ever before.
As I wrote about seven years ago (!) here at Race, President Barack Obama is a modern shining example of this fact. Nobody cared what his positions were on the issues. For most American voters, Obama was simply and powerfully an image of hope and progress. They never factored in his actual stances on issues, they were not voting for an agenda or a political viewpoint or a party… they were voting for an image. A caricature of sorts. A carefully crafted, marketed image.
And it worked.
In 2012, Mitt Romney was the victim of the converse of this rule. President Obama and his team managed to paint Governor Romney (sometimes with the Governor’s unintended assistance) as a wealthy, out-of-touch woman-hater. Even though the facts stood contrary to that image (see Women, Binder Full of), that is how voters saw and believed the image of Governor Romney. The election did not come down to Obama and Romney, it came down to hope and inspiration versus the rich guy who doesn’t care.
This issue of image is immediately what came to mind when the brouhaha over Governor Scott Walker’s education was suddenly thrust into the top headlines this past week. Governor Walker, for those who may be arriving late to the scene of the crash, left college before he finished his senior year. He has no college degree to his name. For some in the media, this calls into question his fitness to serve as President of the United States.
Allow me to pause for a moment and be as clear as possible here: I do not believe a college degree is, or should be, a requirement to serve as President of the United States. The Constitution never places any kind of qualifying educational standard on potential candidates. Governor Walker’s accomplishments stand on their own, with or without a college degree, and to somehow denigrate them now, after the fact, because he didn’t finish his senior year is beyond the pale.
Those are the facts. However… again, we must take into account the issue of identity. By itself, a lack of college degree would be meaningless. At the same time the media began questioning that, however, they also realized something else about Scott Walker: he doesn’t believe in evolution. Now again: on this specific issue, I give a hearty, “Who cares?”. I excoriated the debate moderators way back in 2007 for asking the GOP candidates if they believed in evolution or creationism, and I would excoriate them again today. Factually speaking, it has no bearing on how well someone will govern this country. But now we have two pieces of information on which opponents will begin crafting Scott Walker’s image: he never finished college, and he doesn’t believe in evolution.
Now, add a third item of interest: Wisconsin is currently experiencing some pretty sizeable bumps fiscally speaking (which will undoubtedly and messily complicate Governor Walker’s campaign-to-be). In order to close a large budget deficit, Walker has proposed cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from… Wisconsin state university budgets.
So now we can easily imagine the line of attack on Governor Walker: a college dropout who doesn’t believe in evolution and wants to cut the budgets of higher learning institutions across his home state. Not exactly a pretty picture. Not a winning image. The cherry on top, of course, is that Governor Walker is a Republican, a party many Americans already see as being anti-science and anti-education (see AP History in Oklahoma, for instance). He plays into the stereotypes with little to no effort required from his opponents.
Of course, Governor Walker isn’t the only Republican governor talking about cutting higher education funding, which just exacerbates the problem. Governors Jindal and Christie have proposed cutting university funding in Louisiana and New Jersey as ways to fill their respective state budget shortfalls as well. When you are a potential candidate exploring a presidential primary full of voters who believe the words of Grover Norquist as gospel truth, common sense financial solutions can take a back seat to becoming a perceived enemy to higher education. This is especially true and dangerous for Governor Walker, given the overall image starting to be painted of him. Every stumble and misspoken phrase along the campaign trail, which might be forgiven from other candidates, will be treated as headline news from the Wisconsin governor.
None of this is a reason for Republicans to avoid nominating Walker. He may well end up being the best candidate in the field. But if they do, the GOP must understand the hand they’ve been dealt and respond accordingly — and the past week hasn’t been an encouraging response on that front. Republicans can circle the wagons and rally ‘round the flag as much as they want on this one, screaming about a biased and elitist media until their face turns blue. But that will do little to nothing to actually solving the image problem Walker is about to be branded with. Walker must work overtime to paint an alternative image — a more positive picture of who he is that can shatter some of these early stereotypes and display him as an intelligent, competent leader. There is a massive difference between being viewed as a blue collar, folksy midwesterner (on the balance, a very positive image) and being lumped in with the Sarah Palins and Rick Perrys of the world. It will be interesting to watch if and how Walker and his team steer this ship toward the former.
PPP has just released their latest 2016 Presidential polling for the Republican Nomination. Their results for the end of February are as follows:
- Scott Walker 25% (11%)
- Ben Carson 18% (15%)
- Jeb Bush 17% (17%)
- Mike Huckabee 10% (9%)
- Chris Christie 5% (7%)
- Ted Cruz 5% (9%)
- Rand Paul 4% (4%)
- Rick Perry 3% (2%)
- Marco Rubio 3%
- Someone else/Not sure 11% (5%)
Survey of 316 Republican primary voters was conducted February 20-22, 2015. The margin of error is +/- 5.5 percentage points. Political ideology: 38% (38%) Somewhat conservative; 38% (35%) Very conservative; 17% (21%) Moderate; 6% (5%) Somewhat liberal; 2% (1%) Very liberal. Results from the poll conducted January 22-25, 2015 are in parentheses.
–Data compilation and analysis courtesy of The Argo Journal
The latest CNN poll, as posted below, has Huckabee in the lead with Bush and Walker close behind. After all the usual disclaimers of it being a super early poll and all that goes with it, here are my thoughts:
I LOVE IT!!!
I can’t help it. It’s not that I am a big fan of Huckabee; I’m not. It’s just that I do not care all the much for Jeb Bush. Any poll that shows the “Republican Establishment’s” anointed one trailing is a good poll for me.
Bush represents the R.E. in a way that Mitt Romney never really did. Sure, they supported Mitt since he just might end up winning the White House, and he was the closest thing in the field to being one of them, but few of them ever seemed all that enthusiastic about him. They tended to treat him more like an outsider, which is not all that surprising really. Mitt never was much of a professional politician. He was a business leader who tried his hand at politics. His financial connections allowed him to get his foot into the clubhouse door but that’s about it. He never was a full member of the club.
Bush is different. The R.E. LOVES him. He’s one of their own after all — a true political insider, a full member of the club. He has the backing of the Bush political machine, a machine that has won three Presidential campaigns. He’s a man that the professionals can get excited about. But they seem to be the only ones who are all that enthused for him.
How much support does Bush have outside of the R.E.? It doesn’t appear to be all that much. In that respect, he reminds me of John McCain and Bob Dole before him. The only people who seemed to have gotten really excited about either of those two were the members of the R.E.. The rank and file never showed that much enthusiasm for either of them. McCain did manage to hit a rich vein of grassroots support when he chose Sarah Palin for his running-mate, but for himself, there was very little.
Who are the candidates that currently have some serious core support among the rank and file? I would say there are three who currently have the capability of double digit support. In alphabetical order they are:
I don’t see a whole lot of enthusiasm out there for anybody else, at least none that can be measured anywhere near double digits.
Scott Conroy has an interesting article on RCP today, arguing that, with Mitt Romney out, Nevada might be important this cycle.
I read it shortly after looking through the NBC/Marist polls below that show three different leaders in the first three states. Though I am thoroughly skeptical of polls this far in advance of voting, I considered the off-chance that they might be right, and that Mike Huckabee might win Iowa, Jeb Bush New Hampshire, and Lindsey Graham South Carolina. In that unlikely scenario, Nevada might play a huge role as a tie-breaker (or logjam-breaker). Except:
Though it is far too early to put much weight into such surveys, a poll conducted by the group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions found a wide-open race among likely GOP caucus-goers with Scott Walker (18 percent), Jeb Bush (12 percent) and Rand Paul (9 percent) constituting the top three.
Oh great, four winners in four states!
It might be 11 months until the first voting in the opening event of the U.S. 2016 presidential election, but there can be little doubt that the “on” button has been pressed for this highest profile quadrennial contest.
Mitt Romney’s decision not to run again has set a great deal into motion. Jeb Bush, as a result, is now the consensus “frontrunner.”
Following the recent Citizens United unofficial debate in Des Moines, we now also have the first informal “flavor of the news cycle,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Mr. Walker stole the show among the potential candidates (I personally thought that non-candidate New Gingrich gave the most important speech) with a shirt-sleeved talk that exceeded media expectations. The governor recently won a hard-fought re-election after initiating a series of controversial but much-applauded (by conservatives) executive actions in the Badger State. He is, of course, a very long way from the nomination (and hasn’t even formally announced), but he now clearly merits elevation to the first tier of GOP prospects, joining Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
But he will not be the last main flavor of the news cycle in 2015. This process has a certain similarity to a team pitching rotation in major league baseball. Each starting hurler gets to pitch every four or five days. In this case, most of the serious GOP hopefuls will do something unusual to obtain media attention, and following that, they will temporarily lead in the polls. This pattern will be repeated routinely, especially after the first formal debates begin in the autumn, and subsequently after each debate — unless, of course, one frontrunning candidate catches on early and the contest becomes more or less moot.
Look for New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie already in the first tier, to become the flavor of the news cycle later, after the debates (in which he will probably shine) begin. If he decides to run, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also an excellent speaker, could become the flavor of the news cycle after winning an early primary. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul could also reach high flavor if his supporters succeed in placing him upward in an early primary or caucus. Physician Ben Carson is already a conservative favorite, and is already showing strong numbers in early polls. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum already have been flavors of the news cycle in 2011-12, but it will be difficult for them to repeat this success in 2016 — with the public and the media clamoring, as they always do, for new faces and sensations.
Be also prepared for a surprise flavor of the news cycle after someone now not expected to run gets into the race and steals attention away, at least for a while, from the frontrunners.
Remember Herman Cain?
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
“Someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer.”
Intricate, personal accounts of threats lobbed at him and his family during the recall battle are now a cornerstone of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s stump speech.
On Thursday evening, Governor Walker reiterated this theme at a small, invitation-only reception in the Lakewood, NJ home of former pharmaceutical executive Dr. Richard H. Roberts, a mega GOP donor and supporter of Governor Walker.
The predominantly Orthodox Jewish audience is far removed from the hunting culture. However, the “gut my wife like a deer” line elicited the same audible gasps as it did during the likely presidential candidate’s speech at the Freedom Summit in Iowa this past Saturday.
Scott Walker, victim?
The themes expressed in a likely presidential candidate’s stump speech aren’t there by accident. The abuse Mr. Walker endured at the hands of the left does more than just placate conservatives who relish a real fighter for their favored causes. It goes to the heart of the governor’s political success to date, which defies all conventional odds.
Little could frustrate the left more than the fact that a less-than-charismatic white male conservative governor gets to strongly curtail union power in a blue state and wins elections comfortably – three times in four years. They lobbed everything they’ve got – money, volunteers, protestors, big-name politicians – at Walker, but nothing made a dent.
Riding a wave of positive reviews of his de facto debut in the presidential race, the governor was clearly on a high in Lakewood. Appearing in a black velvet yarmulke – “It covers my bald spot well” – Mr. Walker was all smiles, handshakes and backslaps. He acknowledged with a wink and thumbs-up when individual audience members snapped pictures with their smartphones. He did all this while consistently pointing to the left’s persecution of him. “This last go around, I was the number one target in America,” he stated.
Glancing at Scott Walker’s improbable rise to a top tier presidential candidate, you see that his political sustenance is, in large part, is liberal overkill. Were it not for the historic 2012 recall race the left subjected him to, Scott Walker would be just one amongst a selection of competent but uninspiring white male Republican governors in blue and purple states. Not much different than, say, Rick Snyder of Michigan, or the man many wrongly attempt pegging Walker to: former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
None of them will be president in 2017. Yet, now Walker is well positioned as a potential rare hero common hero for both establishment GOPers and firebrands like Rush Limbaugh.
An enemy’s enemy is a friend. An enemy’s top enemy is a best friend.
“I think that’s insulting.”
The left’s overkill has not only endeared Mr. Walker to all factions of the right, but also to the Wisconsin independents and, in Walker’s words, “discerning Democrats” who helped him win his three tough races.
Liberals don’t bat an eyelash when making the most outlandish accusations against Republicans, such as accusing Mitt Romney of causing a woman to die from cancer or predicting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner would ban condoms.
Like clockwork, they tried this shtick on Scott Walker. In September, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Walker has given women “the back of his hand” and is “grabbing us by the hair.” Yet it backfired big time. Both the campaign of Walker’s opponent Mary Burke and, later, Wasserman Schultz herself, distanced themselves from the remark.
Unlike with most politicians, especially conservative Republicans, you just cannot throw the bunker busting bombs at Scott Walker. It doesn’t work.
At the Lakewood reception, I asked Governor Walker about the lessons he learned while running against a female Democrat in 2014, and how that would translate to the inevitable gender-card-playing should he face Hillary Clinton next November. “I think that’s insulting,” he responded. “I talk to female voters all the time. The women I talk to are not unlike most men; they care about the economy; they care about their neighbor who has been out of work for six months; they care about schools.”
Walker bets on regular guy image
The governor’s retort to Democrats’ “War on Women” is not original, but he is one of its most effective messengers.
While his major 2016 GOP rivals may have more colorful personalities, and/or more intriguing biographies, Mr. Walker is betting that his regular-guy image will win the day. He takes pains to mention his working class childhood, bargain hunting at Kohl’s, and his wife’s part-time jobs. When discussing the need for a strong and consistent foreign policy, he uses as an example the pact he had with wife all the years that they would never contradict each other when one punished one of their sons.
Governor Walker’s persona and demeanor are indeed not dynamic, but he therefore also comes across as too normal and nice to be caricatured as a bogeyman. The glove doesn’t fit. “I don’t take the bait … in the end it didn’t become the kind of wedge issue you’d expect,” he explained to me regarding Democrats’ efforts to paint him as anti-woman.
The upcoming year-plus primary season will be fascinating to watch, but it is distinctly possible that Scott Walker has the perfect balance necessary for a Republican to win the White House these days: strong enough to land a knockout punch, but too agreeable for moderate voters to want to see him punched back.
Just hours before Mitt Romney announced that he would not be making another presidential run, Scott Walker was eager to contrast himself with the previous GOP nominee, who he said lost because he couldn’t connect with everyday American working class voter. “Even when I’m on Fox News and talk radio,” he said, “I talk like I’m talking to a guy sitting on his couch — he works in a factory in my state; his wife works as a nurse in the local hospital; they have two kids going to public school; they’re working hard to make ends meet – in a language that makes sense to them.”
I asked the governor how the GOP can run on the economy in 2016 if leading indicators continue their current positive trajectory. He replied that the party would need to focus on the Americans, particularly those in rural areas, whose economic conditions lag the rest of the nation’s.
While at a closed fundraiser in the home of a super wealthy donor, Scott Walker sounded the polar opposite of what Mitt Romney did in a similar setting two and a half years ago when he made his infamous “47 percent” comments.
Time will tell whether his national ambitions will end up differently too.
I have had my eye on Mitt Romney since the time he ran against Ted Kennedy. I’ve watched every step of his career. I became a supporter when he stepped in and rescued the Salt Lake Olympics. That was an awesome demonstration of incredible administration skills and talent. I longed for a man like that to be President of the United States. I still do. I simply do not see anyone in either party who has the same administration abilities as Willard Mitt Romney.
But lets face facts. Before one can be President, one must be elected President. While I am fairly confident that Mitt could win the nomination once again, I am far less sanguine that he could win the general election. He just hasn’t been all that good at the retail politics necessary to win the Oval Office.
I liked the manner in which he bowed out. He has repeatedly stated over the past two years that he wasn’t planning to run, yet countless numbers of people pointed to the poll numbers and urged him to reconsider. He finally agreed to take another look. He spent several weeks seriously examining the data and likely the feelings of his family. In the end, he decided against it, and he said so. He didn’t keep dragging the suspense out trying to suck up as much media attention as possible as countless others have done. He told people he was seriously looking, he seriously looked, and then announced he was not running.
His statement announcing his decision to not run was truly classy. There was no bitterness, no recriminations, no lashing out at anyone. Just a plain statement of his feelings and reasons for not running.
As for those of you trying desperately to read between the lines looking for hidden meanings and nuances, may I offer this free advice? Chill out, you’re trying too hard. If Romney truly has a preference as to whom he would like to see win the nomination, AND he wants share it with us, he’ll tell us. There is no need to slice, dice, dissect, and weigh every word and turn of phrase in the speech looking for secret messages. He’s not running. Accept it for what it is and move on.
Let me begin by letting you know who else is on this call, besides Ann and me. There are a large number of people who signed on to be leaders of our 2016 finance effort. In addition, state political leadership from several of the early primary states are on the line. And here in New York City, and on the phone, are people who have been helping me think through how to build a new team, as well as supporters from the past who have all been kind enough to volunteer their time during this deliberation stage. Welcome, and thank you. Your loyalty and friendship, and your desire to see the country with new, competent and conservative leadership warms my heart.
After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.
Let me give you some of my thinking. First, I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination. Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening. I know that early poll numbers move up and down a great deal during a campaign, but we would have no doubt started in a strong position. One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.
I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee, but that is before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.
I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.
I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country. But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.
I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.
I encourage all of you on this call to stay engaged in the critical process of selecting a Republican nominee for President. Please feel free to sign up on a campaign for a person who you believe may become our best nominee.
I believe a Republican winning back the White House is essential for our country, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.
To all my supporters, friends and family who worked both tirelessly and loyally to support my campaigns in the past, I will always be deeply appreciative. What you have already done is a tribute to your patriotism. We are overwhelmed and humbled by your loyalty to us, by your generosity of spirit, and by your friendship. God bless you all.
News is breaking that dozens of supporters have received email messages inviting them to a conference call hosted by Mitt Romney himself on the status of the 2016 race this morning. Speculation is strong that he will announce one way or the other.