Billionaire GOP superdonors aren't getting what they paid for

The billionaires who bankrolled Mitt Romney and other Republican establishment candidates are becoming disillusioned with the political classes, who give them the mushroom treatment: keep 'em in the dark and shovel shit all over them.

Karl Rove and his brain trust have lost all credibility since they promised their backers that they knew precisely how to buy an election. In the wake of Romney's loss (and Rove's meltdown on national television), the super-rich have begun to found and manage their own super PACs, which dole out money to the candidates like micromanaging VCs giving out money to portfolio companies, making them hit milestones as a condition of further funding.

The campaigns are responding: the Cruz campaign lets donors through the website earmark their funds by different kinds of funding. Cruz's main backer, billionaire Robert Mercer, backed a sleazy data-mining company and dictates campaign action based on its conclusions.

Rubio's main backer, Paul Singer, uses his American Opportunity Alliance super PAC to fund "digging up dirt on Democrats, for example by sending video trackers to events in order to build a library of unflattering material."

Perhaps Bush is the perfect case study: The candidate who has underperformed the most is the one with a 2012-style campaign, who steered all his major donors into one super-pac. That organization, Right to Rise USA, is run by the grizzled strategist Mike Murphy, who succeeded in bundling a $100 million war chest and is now finding himself on the receiving end of donor backlash. Last month, for instance, a group of major Bush supporters held a conference call to vent about Murphy after he outlined his strategy in an interview to Bloomberg Politics. "These guys got rip-shit," said one person briefed on the call.

But the most important lesson the billionaires are learning this year is that they aren't much better at politics than Karl Rove. Well, not true. There is one billionaire who seems to have contemporary Republican politics figured out. "This is no longer a meteor going through the sky," Langone told me, observing Donald Trump's dominance over the race and sounding just shy of panicked. "He's been in the lead 116 of 120 days."

Republican Billionaires Just Can't Seem to Buy This Election
[Gabriel Sherman/New York Magazine]