Big Republican Donors Still on the Fence

Bigwigs are waiting for the first voting contests to provide fresh evidence about who is electable.

Some of America’s biggest conservative donors have yet to commit to a Republican presidential candidate this year, NBC News reports, confirming that the nominating contest is still very much in flux.

According to the most recent data available from the Federal Election Commission, three of the top five donors who spent more than $100 million dollars combined in the 2012 election have yet to make up their minds. Only half of the top ten donors have picked a candidate.

NBC cites a fundraiser, Bobbie Kilberg, saying donors — big and small — are on the fence. “People are saying call me the day after New Hampshire.”

Waiting for New Hampshire

The state is the first to hold a presidential primary next month, a week after voters in Iowa caucus to support their candidate.

As this website has pointed out, Iowa’s heavy concentration of evangelics distorts its nominating contest in favor of Christian conservatives who stand little chance of winning a national election. Ted Cruz, a far-right senator from Texas, is likely to do well there.

New Hampshire has a better record of selecting winners and party bigwigs will be waiting to see which candidates do well there before throwing their weight behind a single one.

The party decides

None of this is unusual or unexpected. The enduring candidacy of property magnate Donald Trump — who is still ahead in national as well as state polls — may be, but the fact that big donors aren’t committing is no reason to think that this year’s Republican primary will be radically different from the past.

Bloomberg View‘s Jonathan Bernstein argued in October already that party actors may wait until the early states have provided new evidence about who is electable before rallying around a candidate.

The political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller argued in 2008 that this is what usually happens: elected, local and state party officials, as well as the looser coalition of donors, insiders and affiliated interest and lobby groups surrounding them, collectively nudge voters in the right direction.

“The party decides,” they argued. Not in smokey rooms behind closed doors, but in myriad subtle ways: by writing caucus and primary rules (including crucial ballot requirements), appointing superdelegates, scheduling debates and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and organization.

The last part hasn’t happened yet — at least not on a massive scale — but that doesn’t mean it won’t.