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It Takes More Than a Mega-Donor to Win the White House

Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.

Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.

It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.

The best example of this was not Gingrich, a Republican veteran whose baggage and lack of discipline doomed his candidacy from the start. Rather, it was Jon Huntsman, whose father Jon Huntsman, Sr., was noted in the Politico piece as the mega donor behind his son’s campaign. The point here is that Huntsman had no shortage of money and was given fawning coverage throughout the mainstream media as well as puff pieces from conservative writers like George Will. But all the money and the media attention in the world could not convince Republican primary voters that a feckless moderate like Huntsman ought to be president.

Mitt Romney’s money gave him an advantage in the GOP race, but Politico’s explanation of his win — “a pro-Romney super PAC obliterated the field” — is misleading. Though he fell short in November against President Obama, he won the GOP nomination because he was the most viable candidate in the field, a factor that no amount of money given to either Gingrich or Santorum could overcome.

While all of the possible candidates on both sides of the aisle would do well to find themselves a friend like Adelson, one such person or even a few won’t elect a person who can’t attract the support of the voters. If you don’t believe me, just ask president-elect Gingrich or president-elect Santorum.


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