If Jeb Bush’s most loyal supporters were told last year the former Florida governor would be out of the 2016 U.S. presidential race by February, they most likely would have laughed out loud. Now, the prospect of not only seeing the Republican nomination go to billionaire businessman Donald Trump but also losing the candidate they believed would help the GOP retake the White House has set many of them back on their heels.
Within hours of Bush dropping out of the presidential race Saturday night, many outlets reported that some of his big donors were switching their support to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. As the presidential-nomination season heads toward Super Tuesday (March 1) with Trump looking stronger than ever, the establishment wing of the Republican Party is facing an increasingly fraught choice: either resign themselves to the New York real estate mogul or line up behind an alternative.
Although Rubio may appear to be a natural fit for big campaign contributors hoping to stop Trump in his tracks, Bush backers and GOP strategists say a sense of loyalty and the rivalry between the two Sunshine State politicians could make supporters think twice when choosing another 2016 presidential campaign to help finance.
“Their focus was, ‘How do you clear out the mainstream lane for Jeb Bush?’,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who advised U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The person who was hit most by Right to Rise was Rubio.”