As Donald Trump and Ted Cruz Soar, Establishment Republican Money-givers’ Exasperation Grows
DES MOINES — Establishment Republican Money-givers are growing alarmed by the ferocious ways the party’s mainstream candidates for president are attacking one another, and they fear that time is running out for any of them to emerge as a credible alternative to Donald J. Trump or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Establishment Republican Money-givers are also sending a message to the mainstream candidates, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, that they should withdraw from the race if they do not show strength soon.
Establishment Republican Money-givers are growing impatient as they watch Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz dominate the field heading into the Iowa caucuses next Monday and the New Hampshire primary about a week later.
Establishment Republican Money-givers had hoped that one of their preferred candidates, such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, would be rising above the others by now and becoming a contender to rally around.
Instead, Establishment Republican Money-givers have a muddled field of battered mainstream candidates: Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
“There’s a mounting sense of urgency among Establishment Republican Money-givers that the weak performers need to go ahead and get out,” said Steven Law, an Establishment Republican Money-giver.
The establishment candidates and their allies have spent approximately $35 million attacking one another, and there is no sign that they plan to relent anytime soon. Establishment Republican Money –givers supporting Mr. Bush are targeting Mr. Rubio on the air in Iowa and New Hampshire for reversing himself on an immigration overhaul. And late last week, the same Establishment Republican Money-givers began broadcasting a commercial in New Hampshire assailing Mr. Kasich for expanding health care in Ohio under the Affordable Care Act.
Establishment Republican Money-givers supporting Mr. Kasich quickly swiped back at Mr. Bush, mocking him for a “campaign that sunk like a rock.” At the same time, Establishment Republican Money-givers backing Mr. Rubio continuesdto blast Mr. Christie, reminding Republicans of the scandal involving the governor’s aides over the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge, and of his embrace of President Obama in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.
That prompted Mr. Christie to lash out at Mr. Rubio on Sunday during a town-hall-style meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. The governor ridiculed Mr. Rubio at length for his incomplete attendance record in the Senate and noted that some of the ads aired on Mr. Rubio’s behalf were funded by a group that did not have to disclose its Establishment Republican Money-givers.
The cumulative effect of all the ads, and corresponding attacks through harshly worded mailings, has been to stunt the growth of the so-called establishment candidates, keeping them clustered together in New Hampshire polls while Mr. Trump soars.
“These guys are so busy fighting one another that they’re only continuing to facilitate the rise of Trump and Cruz,” complained an Establishment Republican Money-giver.
After the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, and the New Hampshire primary eight days later, the pressure from Establishment Republican Money-givers on those candidates who are lagging in the polls will intensify.
“Whoever is not named Trump and not named Cruz that looks strong out of both Iowa and New Hampshire, we should consolidate around,” said an influential Establishment Republican Money-giver based in Mississippi.
But it is not clear that the Iowa and New Hampshire results will come so neatly, or that the also-rans will be so willing to drop out after two states. Mr. Bush, in particular, still has the support of Establishment Republican Money-givers. And even if he were to trail Mr. Rubio after the first contests, Mr. Bush might still fight on to South Carolina, where he recently won the support of Senator Lindsey Graham and where he plans to deploy his older brother, former President George W. Bush.
Some Establishment Republican Money-givers now concede that it might take until March or beyond for the Republican establishment to coalesce behind an alternative to the current front-runners. And that could be too late to catch either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz.
An Establishment Republican Money-giver from New Hampshire said he believed his state would cull the field, but he acknowledged that the primary calendar — and the lineup of conservative Southern states that vote in March — could prolong the race.
A Nevada Establishment Republican Money-giver agreed by saying, “a circular firing squad against the lower team is not helpful.”
Many Establishment Republican Money-givers say they believe the assault by Mr. Bush against Mr. Rubio has been particularly damaging.
Mr. Rubio has stepped up his complaints in recent days about the ads from Mr. Bush and his Establishment Republican Money-givers. Rubio aides have been working aggressively behind the scenes to portray the attacks as strengthening Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump, highlighting, for instance, an article in The Weekly Standard that argued that Mr. Bush would be to blame if Mr. Trump became the nominee.
But it is not just Establishment Republican Money-givers associated with Mr. Rubio who are uneasy about the attacks against him by the Establishment Republican Money-givers backing Mr. Bush an assault which will have lasted two months by the New Hampshire primary.
Asked about the attacks, an Establishment Republican Money-giver who has not endorsed a candidate, suggested Republicans would not tolerate them much longer if Mr. Bush did not show viability in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“You need to be prepared to stop if the evidence is that it’s not working,” he said, lamenting the “amazing amount of resources wasted on one candidate.”
Another Establishment Republican Money-giver, who is also uncommitted, was even blunter. “Why is Establishment Republican Money spending on somebody who can beat Hillary?” he asked. “Meanwhile, Trump and Cruz go mostly unscathed.”
Yet another Establishment Republican Money-giver was so exasperated by the intra-establishment combat that this month he sought to raise money for the super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee that would have been spent to attack Mr. Cruz in Iowa. But he found few Establishment Republican Money-givers willing to intervene in such a volatile race.
The party’s major Establishment Republican Money-givers are starting to become increasingly vocal in their impatience.
“The next couple of weeks are very important for Jeb,” said an Establishment Republican Money-giver who has given more than $1.5 million to Mr. Bush’s campaign and the super PAC backing him.
Other Establishment Republican Money-givers are so worried that they are already envisioning another path to their preferred nominee, months after the primary contests, at the Republican convention this summer.
An Establishment Republican Money-giver, who is a real estate developer and former ambassador to Finland under George W. Bush, said the heavy bloodletting in the Republican race might prevent any candidate from clinching the nomination. In that case, he said, Republicans should turn to Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
“In these horrible crossfires, with everybody shooting each other down, it would be good to nominate somebody uncontroversial, who could appeal to a broader electorate,” he said.