Texas Sen.Ted Cruz thinks he can get himself elected president, and he’s gone to a friendly media outlet to try to gin up good press, give his base a preview of his campaign strategy, and drum up interest among potential staffers and campaign donors.That’s standard procedure by now. But what’s notable about Cruz’s recent decision to give the National Review a look at his nascent presidential campaign machinery is what it reveals about the rapidly changing nature of how big-money political campaigns get financed.
Cruz’s National Review strategy dump isn’t really Cruz fishing for traditional donors, or campaign operatives; it’s an open letter to a few wealthy potential super PAC donors who have the potential to make or break a Cruz-for-president bid. This is how far campaign finance has swung since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and the court cases that followed it: Lining up millionaires and billionaires to finance a friendly super PAC has landed at the top of a would-be candidate’s to-do list.
The National Review article is a standard strategy piece. It says Cruz is approaching a potential presidential run by saying, “To hell with the independents,” and focusing on animating the Republican base. Cruz’s advisers tell the publication their candidate’s path to victory lies in juicing conservative turnout, and leaning on young people and Jewish and Hispanic voters. “He has already gone to great lengths to court Jews,” the National Review says, “making it clear that he wants their approval, acceptance, and financial support.” The piece name-checks real estate developer Mort Zuckerman, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt as key Jewish figures Cruz is courting.
Adelson’s name is the tell here. The Dorchester native, who has made billions of dollars operating casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, single-handedly turned Newt Gingrich into a presidential contender three years ago. A super PAC funded by Adelson and his wife bought millions of dollars in television ads in the 2012 Republican primary, boosting Gingrich while attacking the party’s frontrunner, Mitt Romney. The super PAC’s cash infusion resuscitated Gingrich’s moribund candidacy, and propelled Gingrich past Romney in the South Carolina primary.
Adelson’s support for Gingrich came relatively late in the Republican contest, from an organizational standpoint. It wasn’t pre-planned, it came on an ad-hoc basis, and it was eventually overcome by a better candidate, Romney, with a more organized and disciplined network of super PAC supporters. But Gingrich’s brief, Adelson-funded rise was a showcase for the ability of a single wealthy individual to launch a fringe candidate with little formal infrastructure into presidential contention.
Outside super PACs and political nonprofits poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 presidential contest. And in the two years that have followed, campaign finance has shifted even more strongly in the direction of outside groups funded by wealthy individuals and corporations. In the 2014 midterm races, outside groups outspent political candidates in three dozen congressional races, including in hotly contested Senate races in Colorado, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. Outside super PACs are the new campaign finance committee. And Cruz, for one, appears to be looking to push the super PAC ball further down the field. He’s angling to make himself Newt Gingrich, but with a real organization.
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