Republicans have a problem for 2016: Too much money.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush expects to raise $100 million by the end of this month. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas raised $31 million in one week. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida pulled in $40 million in pledges. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker expects to raise $25 million by the end of June. As many as 14 other potential Republican candidates have also been busy raking in the dough.
So have Democrats Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, though the Democratic race does not look as competitive as the GOP contest.
In previous races, candidates who didn't do well in the early primaries would see their fund raising dry up. That would force them to drop out of the race. In 2016, however, money flowing in from billionaire supporters will keep dead candidates alive.
Primaries are a killing field. Their purpose is to kill nonviable contenders and get their bodies off the field as quickly as possible. Then the party can close ranks around the winner. But if the dying candidates still have money, they can continue to campaign, harass the front-runner, collect votes and win delegates. Cash infusions from billionaire Sheldon Adelson, for example, revived the 2012 campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Last month, Republican candidates flocked to Adelson's Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition. The press dubbed the event "the Adelson primary."
The Republican National Committee is doing everything it can to shorten the process. Imposing a tighter campaign schedule, it hopes to have a decision by the end of March. The committee is also limiting the number of debates in order to avoid giving uncompetitive candidates a platform. Imagine 17 candidates debating! Republican leaders want to avoid what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012. Competitors refused to quit, and Romney was unable to claim a majority of delegates until May 29.
In 2008, however, it didn't hurt the Democrats to have Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama slug it out until the bitter end. Obama didn't claim victory until June 4. In that race, however, most Democrats would have been happy with either candidate as the party's nominee. The race made Obama look stronger because he had defeated the formidable Clinton machine. And Clinton won more praise than criticism for sticking it out until the end. It made her look like a fighter.
The problem for Republicans next year is that the divisions in the party are real, and they are deep. All those candidates, backed by all that money, will do everything they can to expose the divisions. You've got your establishment Republicans (Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie), your libertarian ones (Kentucky Senator Rand Paul), your religious rightists (former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee), your Tea Party champions (Cruz, Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry) and your neo-conservatives (Rubio, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).
The longer the feuding goes on, the more likely the eventual nominee will say something stupid. Like Romney in a 2012 primary debate saying his solution to the immigration problem would be for illegal immigrants to "self-deport."
Where is all the money coming from? It's not the "one percent" - it's the top one percent of the one percent. The billionaires who have been making out like bandits while working Americans are falling further and further behind. Graham told New Hampshire voters, "What I worry about is that we are turning campaigns over to about 100 people in this country, and they are going to be able to advocate their cause at the expense of your cause."
Case in point: Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who say they are prepared to spend nearly a billion dollars to elect a Republican. So far, they've narrowed their choice to five candidates (Cruz, Walker, Bush, Rubio and Paul).
Gingrich said recently that wealthy donors could decide, "This year, instead of buying a new yacht, I'm going to spend $70 million on a candidate.''
Yachts, candidates - all playthings for the super-rich.
Who opened the floodgates? The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, in its bone-headed 2010 decision allowing unlimited contributions to "independent" spending committees. So far this year, 15 potential candidates have formed their own spending committees (super PACs) in preparation for their campaigns. We're seeing a cross-country orgy of fund raising even before the candidates declare. As of mid-April, Bush had spoken at 47 fund-raising events for his Right to Rise super PAC.
Even though a super PAC is not allowed to coordinate strategy with a campaign, the ties between them are getting closer and closer. Right to Rise is led by consultant Mike Murphy, who had been expected to run the Bush campaign.
Donors are catching on. "There's no question that donors are much more comfortable with super PACs,'' a strategist running Perry's Opportunity and Freedom PAC told the Washington Post. Once a candidate officially gets into the race, he or she is barred by law from raising unlimited sums. That's why we're seeing such fund-raising frenzy now. Elected federal officials are not allowed to raise unlimited money, either. That's why the three Republicans (Cruz, Paul and Rubio) who entered the race first are all senators.
Total spending in the 2016 presidential race is likely to hit $5 billion. That's almost twice as much as 2012. How eye-popping is that? Well, the American Gaming Association has estimated how much money Americans bet on this year's March Madness basketball tournament. The total wagered: $9 billion.© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.