New Hampshire freezes GOP donors — helping Trump

New Hampshire freezes GOP donors — helping Trump
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The New Hampshire primary has frozen GOP establishment donors.

They’re not stampeding toward John Kasich or away from Jeb Bush. And they’re not flocking to Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE, who plummeted after a robotic debate performance.  

Instead, some of the Republican party’s wealthiest donors are either staying on the sidelines or sticking with their chosen candidate, with many hoping that South Carolina clarifies who they should support.  

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The winners from this fragmented state of affairs are leading outsiders Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE, who are receiving relatively few attack ads and would struggle if the GOP’s establishment had a clear unity candidate like 2012's Mitt Romney. 

Had Rubio finished a convincing second in New Hampshire, he might have been that establishment unifier. But he didn’t, and that has left GOP donors stuck. 

"We all thought it was going to sort out after New Hampshire but there wasn't as much sorting out as we thought," said Fred Malek, the finance chair of the Republican Governors Association, who has strong ties to the establishment donor community. 

The majority of GOP donors still on the sidelines “will probably await the results of South Carolina" before making large investments, Malek added.

Kasich’s team is trying to capitalize on his second-place finish in the Granite State, but his performance in a state where he spent the vast majority of his time and resources was not convincing enough to shift major donors out of either Rubio’s or Bush’s camps. 

Given Kasich’s lack of organization in the Palmetto State and limited appeal to the important constituencies of veterans and evangelical Christians, many donors are skeptical that the Ohio governor can do well enough there to clear Bush and Rubio out of the way. 

Summing up the attitude toward Kasich among many GOP donors is Minnesota broadcasting magnate, Stanley Hubbard, who now views the Ohio governor as interesting and viable but still far from a sure bet. 

“My wife and I are going to give money to Kasich…I told my secretary today that we will max out [at $2,700] to him if the governor [Christie] and Fiorina drop out, which they did,” Hubbard said. 

Indeed, Christie’s departure from the race leaves other candidates scurrying for his donors, but it is unclear how many will jump before South Carolina.

The Kasich campaign told journalists on a conference call Thursday that it had secured the backing of Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, who was one of Christie's major backers having given $250,000 to the New Jersey governor's super-PAC. But while he is a strong fundraiser, Langone does not personally write the size of checks that would be decisive in turning Kasich's fortunes.

The billionaire Hubbard, who has also donated to Bush and Rubio, is hedging his bets rather than investing heavily behind one candidate, as he initially did by giving $50,000 to former candidate Scott Walker's super-PAC. 

He still hopes Bush can turn things around and he said that he had a phone conversation with the Florida governor recently in which he offered some tough advice. 

“I told [Bush] you gotta change your persona, put your tie on straighter, and get different glasses,” Hubbard said. “He goes on TV and his tie’s crooked… He’s gotta…not look bewildered… I said you’re getting a lot of bad advice." Hubbard said Bush replied that he was "getting a lot of advice from a lot of people.”  

Bush’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

Several Bush fundraisers interviewed by The Hill, including Texas businessman Jay Zeidman and New York financier Anthony Scaramucci, said they were optimistic about their candidate’s chances to consolidate support since New Hampshire exposed Rubio’s vulnerabilities.

But in off the record conversations, other Bush donors feel beholden and irritated. 

“A lot of donors who have given to Bush… I know this is going to sound crazy, but they almost would have preferred he had gone and died quietly in New Hampshire,” said a conservative leader with strong ties among GOP mega-donors. 

“Instead [Bush is] sticking around which means there’s more pressure to give money. I have not talked to a single Bush donor who was giddy about Tuesday night.” 

Bush’s national finance chairman Woody Johnson, who owns the New York Jets, is asking each member of his high-powered finance committee to bring in one $2,700 campaign check per week for the next five weeks, said a source who received the instruction. 

This “micro” approach, as one top fundraiser described it, indicates how difficult it has become for establishment candidates to raise hard dollars when all the enthusiasm in the Republican base is with the insurgents, Trump and Cruz. 

Other establishment fundraisers and donors interviewed by The Hill say New Hampshire's results appear almost tailor-made to thwart them.

“The feeling after New Hampshire is that it couldn’t have gone better for Donald Trump and it’s not just the margin that he won by, it’s the finishing order,” said the conservative leader, who added that many donors he talks to still view Kasich as unelectable but believe the Ohio governor had simply complicated the nominating process by coming second. 

“Rubio was becoming a donor favorite for sure and his stumbles in the debate set him back,” the conservative leader added. “The Rubio team didn’t understand the gravity of the punch he had taken and the need to correct course. That worries a lot of people." 

“[Donors] are not abandoning [Rubio] but they need to see him steady things this week, and the Saturday night debate [in South Carolina] becomes of primary importance for him, more than anyone else.” 

The man who has given more money to Rubio’s super-PAC than anyone else, the billionaire Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, told The Hill in a telephone interview that he still has faith in the junior senator and may even increase his investment in Rubio – which currently stands at $6 million – as the primary contest progresses. 

Asked how he felt after Rubio’s fifth place finish in New Hampshire, Braman replied, “Disappointed, obviously…But you know this has always been a long business.”  

Another Rubio mega-donor, – New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer – had been making headway at convincing donors to join the Rubio camp, before the disappointing debate and New Hampshire primary. 

Singer, who has given $2.5 million to Rubio’s super-PAC so far, held a private session at the Koch brothers’ donor retreat in Palm Springs earlier this month in a bid to sell Rubio’s virtues to other wealthy conservatives. 

At that session, the billionaire mounted an argument that Rubio was the most electable Republican candidate and had a higher support ceiling than the evangelical-focused Cruz, said a source who attended the meeting. 

But Singer’s argument, - which was well-received at the Koch retreat, carries far less weight after New Hampshire, said a number of donors interviewed. Singer's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

A member of former candidate Scott Walker’s presidential finance committee, who had been weighing his options before Tuesday night, summed up the mood of many donors who are biding their time. 

“I’m not a dumb guy. I see the way the political winds blow,” he said. “I am not going to attach myself to somebody who goes down.” 

This fundraiser, like many others, now finds himself doubting whether there is a center-right candidate strong enough to defeat Trump and Cruz. He is now surveying a war-zone of weakened candidates fighting for the party’s center, which is exactly what Cruz predicted in a private conversation with donors last year. 

The GOP donor establishment knows it is running out of time. 

“If the establishment doesn't get down to one candidate,” said Scaramucci, summing up the anxieties of many of his donor peers, “the divide and conquer strategy won't work against Trump.”