Mitt Romney rocked the political establishment and Jeb Bush’s quasi-campaign for president when the former Massachusetts governor announced he might run for the White House a third time.
But this time, Romney would have to do it without the guy who kept him from being “toast” in 2012: Charlie Spies, the Republican election-law lawyer who advised Romney’s 2008 campaign and ran the 2012 political action committee that spent $156 million on the 2012 GOP nominee.
Also, this time, Spies is all in for….. Jeb Bush.
Spies is the lawyer behind both of Bush’s leadership PAC and the pro-Bush SuperPAC called “Right to Rise.” Spies signed on with Bush long before Romney’s surprise Friday announcement, but he makes clear that he’s comfortable with his support for Bush while he also views Romney with affection.
“Obama’s bumbling presidency has made it clear we need a president with executive leadership experience. The world would be much different and safer if Gov. Romney won and was president today,” Spies said. “But politics is about timing. And Gov. Bush is now rising to the moment and I hope he decides to run.”
Romney certainly heard the ticking of the clock now that Bush on Wednesday began raising hedge-fund money in Greenwich, Conn. So Romney dropped his bomb Friday at a previously scheduled meeting with former donors in New York.
“Everybody in here can go tell your friends that I’m considering a run,” Romney told the donors, according to Politico. The Wall Street Journal first reported the story. Time, however, casts some doubts on Romney's level of interest.
Another Bush loyalist described Romney’s pitch as “pathetic, in a literal sense. It’s kind of sad.”
As The Miami Herald noted in December, Bush’s decision to start up a PAC put pressure on Romney and other candidates to move up their time table. It's like opening a bank and asking investors (campaign donors) to start making deposits.
The SuperPAC allows Bush to raise unlimited sums and so-called “soft money” from corporations. His leadership PAC allows him to raise $5,000 yearly in “hard money” from non-corporate individual donors.
Both financial vehicles allow Bush to raise money and not be limited to the hard-money $2,600 limit per election cycle.
If Bush became an announced candidate, he would essentially have to distance himself from the SuperPAC, which essentially forbids candidates, federal office holders and their campaigns from soliciting, spending and messaging. Bush can continue raising money for the leadership PAC.
Right now, there appears to be little incentive for Bush to soon make his candidacy official since non-candidates can coordinate with SuperPACs. However, donors might be unwilling to stroke large checks if they’re unsure of a person’s desire to run.
Even if Bush announces his candidacy, he can still appear at events where SuperPAC money is raised. Romney, for instance, did it in the 2012 cycle by dog-whistling at donors for the Restore Our Future SuperPAC.
“The lawyers tell me I have to leave the room now,” Romney would say, telling donors to trust Spies and Carl Forti, who were in attendance on behalf of the SuperPAC. With Romney gone, they would then explain the SuperPAC’s needs and wants.
Ultimately, people contribute to candidates – not staffers. And Romney would be a formidable force who could take away a significant chunk of money Bush hoped to get for himself. At the least, Romney's announcement is expected to freeze some otherwise Bush-bound money Also, a recent McClatchy-Marist poll showed Romney leading Bush in a potential matchup.
“Romney’s decision threw us for a loop,” said one Republican who’s fundraising for Bush. “It was out of the blue.”
And, indeed, it was another flip-flop for a politician who has been dogged by allegations of flip-floppery for decades (Sen. Ted Kennedy, once noting Romney’s pro- and anti-abortion positions said he was “multiple choice” on the issue).
When asked about a third bid, Romney last year emphatically told the New York Times “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” In an interview with Bloomberg, he pretty much issued a blanket denial.
There’s an implicit suggestion among some current and former Romney loyalists that he’s entertaining a bid more because Bush is having messaging troubles (click here for gay marriage, here for immigration). The irony is rich, considering Romney’s 47 percent remarks and his multiple explanations about it.
Bush’s positions on immigration and Common Core also could cause him trouble, an anonymous former Romney advisor told BuzzFeed.
“Can you imagine what Ted Cruz is going to do to Jeb Bush? I mean, that’s going to be ugly,” the advisor said.
The point is as true as it is telling about the mindset of Romney World. Romney was never quite accepted by many hard-core conservatives, and the campaign lived in sort of fear of the right at times.
Far more than Bush, Romney was under a state of frequent identity renewal as a result.
And if Romney supporters wonder what Cruz will do to Bush, there’s the matter of what Cruz will do to Romney as the father of individual mandate and the state-based predecessor of Obamacare.
But, should he run, Romney does have the advantage of popularity of second-in-the-nation New Hampshire. Since Bush doesn't look like he's competing hard for first-in-the-natioin Iowa, Bush might have to concentrate more on South Carolina (which helped save his brother in 2000), where his positions might not fire up Southern conservatives these days. Also, Bush can't rely on Florida, which he'd likely win big, to be an early-vote primary state in 2016 to give him an up-front boost.
So, if Romney jumps in, Bush certainly needs a guy like Charlie Spies and a SuperPAC more than ever.