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CEO Daily: One contest Trump isn’t winning

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

On Friday morning, Jeb Bush scored what under normal circumstances would be considered a major coup for a Republican presidential hopeful. The night before, at the sixth GOP debate, the faded onetime frontrunner turned in another performance more mediocre than he can afford. Yet less than twelve hours later, cable news pundits interrupted their morning-after chatter to carry an announcement by Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, that he was throwing his support behind Bush. Graham quit the race last month after failing to move the needle, including in his home state. But he still commands a deep and broad political network in the Palmetto State, which happens to be hosting the third event of the primary next month. NBC News called Graham’s move to Bush a “sign of the GOP establishment consolidating.” Well, not exactly.

It’s true that Bush still leads the field in gathering endorsements from top elected officials — with Graham aboard, he now claims the backing of 5 Senators and 26 House members, per a tally by FiveThirtyEight. But among voters, he’s lagging badly, polling in fifth or sixth place in each of the first three primary states. The situation is dire enough that, according to Politico, many of his donors now assume he’ll quit after New Hampshire, meaning he wouldn’t even contest South Carolina. Meanwhile, Donald Trump — who shares a polling lead in Iowa with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and laps the field in surveys of the next two states — has a grand total of zero top elected officials backing him, ranking him dead last in the endorsement hunt. And Cruz has 16 hard-right House conservatives behind him but none of his Senate colleagues.

This is not how the process usually works. On the contrary, over the last three decades, early endorsements from candidates’ colleagues have been among the strongest indicators of who’ll prevail once the actual voting starts. They serve as a form of trickle-down affirmation from the elected elite to party regulars and money-men and then the rank-and-file. This season, however, a disaffected base is mounting a mutiny. Under the new disorder, a long list of gold-plated endorsers may do more harm than good, a certification from entrenched power most voters are keen to overthrow. Marty Cohen, a political scientist who coauthored the 2008 book “The Party Decides” — an argument for the potency of endorsements in modern primaries — isn’t convinced the rules have inverted. No one’s cast a ballot yet, and Bush’s nearest rival for endorsements, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, remains a good bet to unify establishment support. Elites may have failed to preselect a nominee. But, Cohen asks, “do they still have a veto?” Tough to say. “It’s a crazy cycle.”

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

Top News

With Sanders surging, Clinton no longer looks like a lock

When it comes to insurgent outsiders, Democrats aren’t immune this cycle. A seemingly prohibitive lead that Hillary Clinton built against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has melted away in recent weeks, and senior Democratic officials are now contemplating the consequences for the party if Sanders emerges with the nomination. Sanders has now pulled into a statistical tie with Clinton in Iowa and holds a commanding, double-digit lead over her in New Hampshire. The Clinton campaign is putting on a brave face, insisting they always prepared for an extended primary. The candidates will square off Sunday night in their fourth debate.  Washington Post

 

• Cruz’s eligibility gets its first legal challenge

Donald Trump has knocked Ted Cruz, an increasingly serious threat to win the Republican presidential nomination, off his game by suggesting the Texas Senator’s Canadian birth disqualifies him for the office. During the party’s sixth debate on Thursday night, Trump argued Democrats would end up suing to challenge his eligibility if Cruz himself doesn’t first seek a court judgment settling the question. Trump didn’t have to wait long for his prediction to come true, sort of. An 85-year-old Texas trial lawyer filed suit in federal court claiming that Cruz’s defense of his status as a “natural born citizen” has never been settled legally. The suit is apparently shoddily assembled. More importantly, it’s hardly clear the lawyer has standing to bring the suit.   New York Times

The Anti-Trump force that never arrived

It remains one of the more puzzling questions of this Republican primary: How has Donald Trump made it so far in the race without having his frontrunner status seriously challenged by a well-funded opposition effort? After all, as a candidate, he’s offended a wide swath of the party and sown increasingly dire concerns about the longterm damage he’s doing to the GOP brand. There are likely several explanations — self-interested candidates who saw no immediate dividend in taking him on, donors nervous any campaign targeting him would backfire or embarrass them personally, and a general feeling that Trump would eventually fade on his own. They add up to a dynamic few would have imagined just months ago — only a couple weeks until voting kicks off in Iowa, Trump now looks like a tough candidate to beat for the nomination.  BuzzFeed

Around the Water Cooler

• Elizabeth Warren is suddenly quiet about GE

For years, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has lambasted GE as the worst brand of corporate powerhouse using armies of lobbyists to lower its own tax bill and sticking American workers with the balance. So the company’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston creates something of an awkward situation for the Bay State’s senior senator. Warren offered GE a cautious welcome in a statement, calling the city a “great fit” for the company. Some who know Warren said they don’t expect her to shrink from criticizing the company just because it now calls her state home. But for all of her signature populism, Warren has also been known to go to bat for home-state interests, including the medical device industry.  Boston Globe

Wall Street is in a bind over a Republican congressman’s anti-gay views

The financial services industry has had a steady ally in New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing the S.E.C. But when Garrett, a conservative Christian, threatened to withhold campaign contributions from the House Republican campaign arm over its support of gay candidates, the industry suddenly found itself in a bind. It’s staked out a vocal position in support of LGBT rights. Can big banks countenance continued support for a lawmaker opposed to the civil rights of some of its most valued employees just because he also championed their agenda in Washington? With Garrett gearing up for a general election challenge in the fall, the biggest industry players are already choosing sides.  Bloomberg

 

• Lobbying money is descending on state capitals, transforming the towns

While gridlock rules in Washington, corporate interests are turning their attention to state capitals, where its considerably easier to advance an agenda. The influx of lobbying money has created boomtown environments in the capitals themselves, with lower unemployment rates and higher median incomes abounding. Google, Exxon, Uber and others have all joined the recent rush to establish beachheads in the mini-Washingtons. The effect compounds for those places also home to universities with research arms, since their breakthroughs can generate government contracts.  Wall Street Journal