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February 28, 2014 10:52 AM Where Will Mitt’s Money Go?

By Ed Kilgore

In “invisible primary” stories about the preferences and maneuverings of party elites, it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on who actually represents, say, the “Republican Establishment.” Are the blind quotes behind a story suggesting the “Establishment” is dropping the hammer on this or that recalcitrant pol coming from a real Power Source or from some talkative 25-year-old congressional leadership staffer who’ll be back home running Daddy’s Law Firm in a few years?

Since money talks authoritatively, the most useful “Whither the GOP Establishment” piece I’ve read in a while comes from WaPo’s Wesley Lowery today, who has spent some time talking with Mitt Romney’s 2012 donors about the emerging field for 2016.

It’s real clear these folks love them some Jebbie:

Every single Romney donor we spoke with this week listed the former Florida governor as their top choice.
The donors said that — like Romney — Bush’s time as governor proved he can be an effective leader and manager. His willingness to tackle (or attempt to, at least) tough policy initiatives such as education and criminal justice reform remind them of Romney’s work on healthcare at the state level.
Also, with solid name recognition and the Bush political machine behind him, Romney donors believe Jeb is the most electable of the potential Republican candidates. For Romney donors, electability is the single most important trait.
“If Jeb Bush is in the race, he clears the field,” said one major Romney donor. “You would have someone who has the talent that is equal to Mitt. The natural inclination for Mitt supporters would be to gravitate toward Jeb Bush because he’s a candidate that can win a national race.”

All of this is code for saying the Romney donors would stick with Jebbie through maybe two or three bad national polls. After that, all bets are off, because much as rich people have reason to love the Bush family, electability trumps everything.

But the most interesting thing about Lowery’s findings is that the runner-up for the affections of Mitt’s Money Men is a certain grim figure from Wisconsin:

“Scott Walker is a name to watch,” said one Romney donor in Boston, summing up the feelings of several of those who spoke with us this week.
Romney donors said they believe Walker, like Bush, has the right skill set to lead the country back to economic prosperity. These folks really like governors…. They like that Walker is from a Midwestern swing state, and they like the way he took on the unions there — and lived to tell about it.
Walker’s political resilience is the trait they most admire. He was elected in 2010 and then beat back a recall election that drew national attention. Walker faces a Democratic challenger in 2014 and if he is re-elected, Romney donors say, he will likely have the powerful national brand that could attract big checks for a presidential run.

This confirms more than I would have expected my own hunch that Walker’s going to be the biggest beneficiary of the Christie meltdown (unless, as Charlie Pierce insists, Walker soon falls prey to corruption charges worse than those afflicting Christie).

The other interesting thing Lowery discovers is some interest in Romney Donorland for Rand Paul, which could be significant if the 2016 race devolves into the Establishment Nightmare of a Paul/Cruz battle (these people do not like Ted Cruz at all).

These soundings, interesting as they are, can all obviously change, as is illustrated by the total absence in this story of a name that might well have dominated it a year ago: Marco Rubio. A day after he rang in at 3% in a PPP survey of Iowa Republicans, the one-time GOP savior from Florida continues to look like a brief fashion trend that turned out to be embarrassingly tacky. That can happen if you are not careful.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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