Mitt Romney will join Chris Christie at a Republican Governor’s Association fundraiser in suburban Boston Thursday that advisers to both men insist is about 2014, not about 2016.
But several major Romney donors in Boston, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the New Jersey governor, said they also view the fundraiser’s underlying function as a chance for Christie to forge inroads into Romney’s powerful donor network – which in 2012 financed one of the costliest national campaigns in history.
The pair will dine tonight alongside Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker at the home of New Balance co-founder and Romney donor Jim Davis, an event seen as another indication of Romney’s allegiance to the embattled governor, who has been engulfed during recent months by the bridge-closing scandal.
Christie is one of several potential Republican presidential candidates who have begun gauging their level of support among Romney donors but, in interviews this week, half a dozen of the major ones said that the New Jersey governor is flawed as a potential presidential candidate and would be hard-pressed to earn their financial backing.
“I don’t think Christie is a viable candidate,” said one Boston Republican who is a longtime friend of Romney’s and was a major donor to his 2012 presidential bid. He added: “If Christie is the Republican candidate in 2016, it’s going to save me a lot of money, because I’m not going to go anywhere near that campaign.”
With congressional midterms this November and the presidential election more than two years away, current and former Romney advisers caution, however, that it will be months before the GOP primary field even begins to settle and donors will begin really making up their minds.
And, several Romney advisers agree, no one GOP candidate is likely to inherit the totality of the Romney money machine.
“There is no such thing as ‘Romney people.’ The Romneyworld is a diverse, and interesting group of people,” said Ron Kaufman, a former Romney adviser who will attend the private fundraiser. “It’s not something you can hand off, per se.”
In light of the ongoing investigations into Christie's role in the New Jersey bridge scandal, Romney has consistently been one of the governor's most vocal public defenders in the Republican establishment.
But advisers to both Romney and Christie say that the outward show of support from the former presidential candidate shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Several people who have spent extended amounts of time with the two men describe a warm friendship, in which Romney and Christie shared loud laughs while crammed in a bus for a campaign tour of Ohio and fed magnetically off of each other’s energy while stumping together in New Hampshire.
“These are two guys who have a very warm and very friendly relationship, both publicly and privately,” said Bill Palatucci, one of Christie’s closest political advisers. “I’ve been with them in very private moments – and they have always been friendly with each other, telling family stories and seeking advice from one another.”
Former Romney staffers stressed that Romney never expressed any anger with Christie for how he handled President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy response or his Republican convention speech, in which he focused more on his own record than on Romney. Several former staffers insist that media coverage of the contempt felt toward Christie during the campaign's final days by those inside Romney circles was "overblown." And, some donors said they’re not going to hold either against Christie when deciding whether or not to cut him checks in 2016.
“If Mitt’s okay with it, I think most other people should be okay with it,” said David Beightol, a Washington lobbyist and Romney fundraiser and donor, who said that the thing he remembers most vividly about Christie during 2012 was his early endorsement of Romney – which came before the vital New Hampshire primary.
“Christie was a key surrogate,” he said. “And he was pretty darn impressive at a key time for Mitt and I don’t think people are going to forget that part.”
One major fundraiser for Romney’s 2012 presidential bid said that Romney donors generally fall into one of two camps – donors who were angered by Christie’s behavior during the 2012 campaign and will never support him and donors like Beightol, who don’t hold a grudge against Christie but, given the recent scandals, may question his electability.
In the interviews, donors consistently cited Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and, somewhat surprisingly, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as the candidates who have thus far generated the most buzz in Romneyworld.
Above all, the fundraiser said, Romney donors want to back someone who can win.
“The vast majority of Romney donors are center-right, pro-business donors who want somebody electable and, right now there is a question of Christie’s electability based on these scandals,” the bundler said.
For the first group of donors, Christie is still faulted for hurting Romney in the final months of the 2012 presidential contest, when Christie publicly praised President Obama for providing timely aid to the weather-ravaged New Jersey coast in the days following Hurricane Sandy. The move drew fire from some Romney staffers and advisers.
“Christie is dead to me for the way he threw Romney under the bus,” said one Boston donor, who gave six figures to Romney’s 2012 presidential efforts.
Multiple donors also were quick to mention sustained anger at the fact that Christie used much of the time during his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention talking about himself, and not about Romney.
“I don’t respect the guy,” said another Romney donor in Boston, when asked about whether he still harbors anger for Christie.
That sentiment was echoed by several donors, who said they expect to see their former comrades from the Romney campaign spread out across several GOP operations come 2016.
Romney operatives, as well as the donors themselves, stressed that because the next presidential election cycle is so far out, a lot could – and likely will – change between now and then.
“We’ll wait and see what happens in the midterms, and what the political atmosphere looks like then,” the Romney fundraiser said. “If Christie escapes all of the scandals unscathed, he might even be in a stronger position to court Romney donors. But, there is a huge “if” at the very beginning of that.”