Originally published December 9, 2014
Date: Autumn 2015
(Washington) The top candidates on the Republican side seems to be two governors and one senator. Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), Governor Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) all emerged as the main draws in the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination. Among the “invisible primary” factors, donor support, campaign staff, and activist support were the main criteria to determine who would be the contenders going into Iowa and New Hampshire.
Senator Paul (R-Ky.) was first in this trio. With a massive activist base of libertarian Republicans, significant donor support, and somewhat solid campaign staffing, the Senator was positioned as the frontrunner for the Presidential nomination. The buzz about the Paul candidacy energizing young millennial voters to switch their support from the President’s party to the emergent libertarian Republican faction attracted a significant swath of donor support, including a handful of Romney money men. Hector Garcia,* Tom Ribalco,* and other major donors that had donated to Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid now gave freely to Rand Paul and his PAC’s. However, like his campaign infrastructure and base support, they were largely libertarian Republicans. There was no question Rand Paul could raise enough money to have a solid infrastructure in the early states, have a committed campaign staff battle tested by campaigns dating back to 2004, and have the committed support of libertarian activists. The big question was whether Rand Paul was limited to the libertarian Republicans plus a few others, or if he could forge a true libertarian-conservative majority to win the Party’s nomination.
The next candidate merited some interest. Governor Chris Christie was the highly successful RGA Chair of 2014. He had gone into the election with 29 governors and came out with 31. Despite Republican losses in Alaska and Pennsylvania, the party had picked up Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. Combined with his mammoth re-election of 60-38% in 2013 in blue New Jersey, the Governor was a formidable Presidential candidate in his own right. Of the three, the Romney donors had gone to Christie the most. They had heavily courted him in 2012. And now, in 2016, they saw him as a candidate who would be able to flip blue states. With Jeb Bush out, Christie was the establishment candidate. His apostasies had been slightly smoothed out by the 2014 victories; and as he headed into 2015, he positioned himself as conservative enough to win the nomination while pragmatic enough to win the general election. A foreign policy hawk, he earned plaudits from those who wanted to see a more neoconservative direction, as opposed to Paul’s more dovish position. Christie emerged as the candidate of blue state Republicans who were interested in becoming relevant to the Party again, after a long hiatus.
Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin (and 2015 Marquette University graduate), was the third candidate who had emerged as a strong Republican candidate. He had been notable in Republican circles, since he had passed a right to work law in Wisconsin in 2011. His staring down of the recall in 2012 had earned him even more chits among the Right and Walker had a vast donor base, including the top donors to the conservative movement. Among the three, he had the largest draw among the various factions of the Republican base. Governing as a conservative in a Midwestern swing state, he straddled the divide between more moderate blue state Governor Christie and more libertarian Rand Paul. His donors were not of the Romney variety but they were conservative, and his activists and supporters were similarly branded.
Time would tell if a dark horse candidate would emerge or if these three would be the ones battling for the brass ring in February 2016. For the first time in decades, no one Republican would dominate these pre-primary jockeying and the domination would be headed by a trio. And so, for now, these Republicans would take the invisible primary.
*All non-public figures names are made up.