The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jeb Bush’s fundraising haul was impressive. Ted Cruz’s was more important.

Jeb Bush's fundraising totals for the first half of 2015 were eye-popping: $114 million raised ($103 million of which came through his Right to Rise super PAC) with a stunning $98 million in the bank.

But, as amazing as Bush's haul was, it's Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's fundraising totals that stood out to me as the most important money number from the June reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Cruz raised $14 million through his campaign committee and another $37 million through a constellation of super PACs set up to aid his campaign. That total of $51 million raised put him second behind Bush in total fundraising over the first six months of the year -- ahead of the likes of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Scott Walker.

Cruz's ability to raise large amounts of money -- through both a campaign account and super PACS -- not only differentiates him from other ideological warrior candidates of the past but also gives him a real chance at breaking into the top tier of candidates as the race continues.

Let's tackle the first point, um, first.  Think back to the 2012 Republican primary. The candidate who most directly appealed to the base wound up being -- after much searching -- former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But, Santorum only raised $23 million for his entire campaign in 2012 and the super PAC spending on his behalf put in just $8 million. As a result, he was consistently financially outgunned by Mitt Romney, who went on to be the nominee.  Or go back to 2008 when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the base's preferred candidate.  Huckabee spent just over $16 million on that whole race. (Super PACs weren't a thing back then.)  He was outspent badly by John McCain, who, yup, went on to be the party's nominee.

Cruz has already raised more money than either Santorum or Huckabee did for their entire campaigns. Sure, you, savvy reader, will undoubtedly note: But Jeb's fundraising is beyond anything any candidate did in either 2008 or 2012.  And you'd be right. But -- and this is really important -- Cruz doesn't need to match Jeb dollar for dollar. No one in the race will do that. What Cruz has to do is have enough money to fight back if/when Rubio, Walker, Jeb or all of them at once come after him. And, the early returns suggest he will be.

Now to the second point. Remember that Cruz's support is unlike any other candidates' support in the race -- outside of, potentially, Rand Paul. The Cruz people are ardently for him. They don't really need to be persuaded to stay with him -- and it's hard to see attacks from other candidates peeling them away. The key for Cruz if he is to be a serious contender for the nomination is to grow beyond that base of loyal backers into parts of the party that aren't totally on board with him yet. How do you do that? You spend lots and lots of money communicating to those voters (largely via TV) the story of Cruz in the most positive light possible.  Cruz has that money.

The test for Cruz will be whether, with the low-hanging fundraising fruit now picked, he will be able to sustain the fundraising pace he set over the first six months of the year.  With 16 credible candidates likely to be in this race, it's virtually impossible for the nomination fight to be anything but a long slog. And, the key to surviving and/or winning a long slog race is sustained fundraising to fund ads and campaign operations in an ever-broadening primary and caucus playing field.

Take Cruz's demonstrated fundraising ability over the first half of 2015 and couple it with his status as the most conservative candidate in the race and you have a potent mix that should scare the hell out of any of the establishment candidates with designs on the party nomination.