In the last installment, we noted the Republican Super PAC paradigm might be entering an entirely new phase – spurred on by the epic failures of the old model led by people like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy.
I bounced off Gabriel Sherman’s piece in New York Magazine that featured a number of very angry heavy hitter Republican donors. Many were livid at the failures in 2012 supporting Mitt Romney – and now others are wondering how they’ve had so little return for the $100 million invested in the primary Jeb Bush Super PAC.
I have actually been waiting for this shift to happen – for four years.
In the dedication to the 2013 book now simply known as WTF? – started the very day after Romney’s 2012 disaster – I had the following message for Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and others who were investing of their wealth and trying to stop the theft of the country by Barack Obama and all of his union and government cronies on the left: “I respectfully suggest a change in whose advise and wisdom you invest in. There are a lot of brilliant and talented people in America who understand what is at stake – but very few of them are in Republican establishment circles.”
The same book ends with the statement that “Rove and our establishment know so many things about how to win elections – it’s just that what they know isn’t so – and this is why Rove and the establishment lost…again!”
To wit, the establishment got their “electable” man nominated in 2008 and 2012, and both McCain and Romney got clobbered. Meanwhile, Washington Republicans have still not managed to figure out the historic back to back mid term victories of 2010 and 2014 – wins that elevated them to heights of power and majorities not seen in many decades.
And since June, we have seen the establishment sorcerers stumble around trying to figure out what is up with this Trump phenomenon. Now that Ted Cruz has bolted into second place – and he and Donald Trump seem to be polling an astonishing +/- 55 percent between them – the establishment consultant class is more discredited than at any other time in history. These are the two people they seem to loathe above all others on the planet, and the voters collectively love them.
And now the big money donors have figured out that Rove and the establishment clearly are out of touch with the voters. According to Sherman’s piece, “Rove is not is anywhere near the center of the Republican Party.” A strategist told Sherman that “but for his perch on Fox News, Karl would be in political Siberia. The going joke is that he must have a picture of Roger Ailes in his underwear to keep his contract.”
Frankly, I wouldn’t want to see that any more than seeing Rove in his skivvies – but the salient point is that a new kind of Super PAC has emerged this cycle.
The donors are now directing where and how their money is to be spent – and quite often hiring their own people to run these PACs instead of simply writing the big checks to this establishment guru or that Washington wizard.
“Donors have awakened to the realization that topflight consultants can earn millions from campaigns regardless of whether they win” writes Sherman. Former Rove donor John Jordan of California told him that “it bothers a lot of people that politics has become a cottage industry. Everyone is taking a piece of this and a slice of that. Crossroads (Rove’s PAC) treated me like a child with these investor conference calls where they wouldn’t tell you what was really going on. They offered platitudes and a newsletter.”
Indeed. Washington is a company town, and the company is government and the industry is big money politics. In the Super PACs, this manifests itself with obscene consulting payments and fat commissions on the ad buys. People got rich by failing.
I saw it happen up close with $20-some million of Adelson’s money in 2012. Fat fees and poor decisions made by Beltway-insider types led to heated arguments along the way. I lost those, and Newt Gingrich lost to Mitt.
But let’s face it, most of the donors who can pony up at this level are pretty darn smart and successful. They have now realized that they can put together better teams and campaigns than isolated and incestuous nepotistic D.C. consultants can. They are relying more on the insights of people from the real world than they are on the “House of Cards” lobbyists, strategists and hacks who seem to turn up every election cycle regardless of past failures.
This is how the groups supporting Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others are now organized. According to Sherman, there “is a network being built by Elliott Management founder Paul Singer…the American Opportunity Alliance… a group of roughly 40 Republican financiers who gather regularly for secret meetings with candidates.”
Meanwhile, billionaire investor Carl Icahn is launching a $150 million Super PAC to lobby for corporate tax reform and he’s keeping it in house. “At the risk of being immodest, we have one of the best records on Wall Street” said Icahn. “And I like doing things myself…too many cooks spoil the soup.”
As Jordan, the former Rove donor, says: “I know really well how to sell things. I make my own ads.”
It seems that finally failure has caught up to a lot of the Republican consultant class. Rove will be lucky to control a tenth of the budget he managed in 2012 – and after having nothing to show for the $100 million spent for Jeb, it is hard to ever see Murphy stewarding 9 figure campaigns again.
The Super PACs are now being run by people with experience in the real world – instead of those sequestered inside of eight gilded counties around Washington. Perhaps Rove and his ilk have finally failed their way into irrelevance.
This is the 9th installment of Rove-Stupid: The New Definition of the Republican Establishment.
Edmund Wright is a contributor to Breitbart, American Thinker, Newsmax TV, Talk Radio Network – and author of Amazon Elections Best Seller WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again.