As Christie Watch has been chronicling for some time now, Governor Chris Christie continues to tiptoe his way back into the 2016 presidential conversation, though it’s clearly an uphill climb. Tomorrow night, Christie will appear as the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual Walk to Washington, and Christie Watch will be there to file a complete report on the event. But the governor is also planning to make some news in June when he attends Mitt Romney’s own annual event, a “policy summit” to be held in Park City, Utah. It’ll be another cattle call for would-be 2016 GOP standard-bearers, and also in attendance will be Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee.
Let’s unpack this a bit. Romney, the failed candidate of 2012, is re-emerging in 2014—not as a candidate, it appears, but as a possible kingmaker, and one whose feet are firmly planted in the non–Tea Party, Establishment wing of the Republican party—where Christie and a possible rival in 2016, Jeb Bush, also reside. Even after the scandals that emerged to weigh Christie down last fall, Romney has consistently had nice things to say about Christie—even though some former Romney aides hold grudges about Christie’s embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey—and in February 2014 the two men appeared together at a Boston fundraiser that pulled in $1 million for the Republican Governors Association (RGA). As Christie Watch has been reporting, the New Jersey governor continues to raise millions of dollars for the RGA. According to the RGA’s latest release, the group broke all previous records in the first quarter of 2014, raising $23.5 million between January and March.
The significance of the Romney policy summit in June is that, aside from some star power, it will also be attended by a large number of bundlers and high-dollar donors who were part of Romney’s 2012 money machine. As The Washington Post reports, among “Romney’s financiers” at the event will be “Spencer Zwick, former national finance chairman for Romney’s campaign, Bob White, Romney’s former business partner, plus dozens of former bundlers for Romney’s campaign.” And the Post notes, in an earlier piece, that Romney made a special point in Boston in February of making sure that Christie would be there:
Romney also exchanges e-mails with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). In late February, when the two appeared at a Republican Governors Association fundraiser at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, Romney pulled Christie aside to remind him to attend his June summit in Utah. The conclave in Park City, where Romney purchased a sprawling ski chalet last year, will be a reunion for Romney’s major donors and top aides, as well as a sales session for Solamere Capital, the private equity firm run by Zwick and Romney’s eldest son, Tagg.
The Post adds that Romney is quietly reemerging now as a fundraiser and cheerleader for GOP candidates in 2014:
After retreating from public view following his crushing loss to President Obama in the 2012 election, Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
Notably absent, so far, from the Romney conclave is Jeb Bush, who’s still toying with the idea of running in 2016. (Bush did attend the “Adelson primary,” the Las Vegas bash at which Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who backed Newt Gingrich in 2012, met separately with 2016 hopefuls, including Christie, Bush and others.) But today’s New York Times has a devastating piece on Bush’s financial and corporate entanglements, including his involvement with a number of crooked and questionable firms. The Times also notes Bush’s involvement in 2007–08 with the about-to-collapse Lehman Brothers, something that Christie Watch reported on earlier this month. The article mentions that Bush went begging to a Mexican billionaire in a failed effort to bail out Lehman—but it doesn’t mention, as Christie Watch did, that Florida’s own state Board of Administration lost hundreds of millions that it had invested in Lehman Brothers during the time Bush, a former governor of Florida, had been brought on board.
The scuttlebutt among GOP watchers is that if Christie can’t recover from his New Jersey troubles, it’s Bush who’s most likely to step in and try to pick up Christie’s support among Wall Street, hedge funds, big corporate players and the Establishment generally. But it’s clear now that if he runs, Bush will have his own problems. Given that that Establishment is likely to unite against a Tea Party candidate such as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, that doesn’t leave many options beyond Christie and Bush. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, is one possibility—though he needs to win re-election in 2014 first, and he’s made a lot of bitter enemies though his union-busting in Wisconsin.