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Excerpt: "The biggest parlor game on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms these days is guessing whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will run for president and save the GOP's old establishment base from its rising populist wing."

Clinton was New York's senator for eight years, where Wall Street was a key constituency. (photo: Getty Images)
Clinton was New York's senator for eight years, where Wall Street was a key constituency. (photo: Getty Images)

Wall Street Republicans' Dark Secret: Hillary Clinton 2016

By Ben White and Maggie Haberman, Politico

03 May 14


he biggest parlor game on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms these days is guessing whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will run for president and save the GOP’s old establishment base from its rising populist wing.

The second most popular game is guessing what happens if Jeb says no.

Two dozen interviews about the 2016 race with unaligned GOP donors, financial executives and their Washington lobbyists turned up a consistent — and unusual — consolation candidate if Bush demurs, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t recover politically and no other establishment favorite gets nominated: Hillary Clinton.

Most donors and Wall Street titans have not lined up with any candidate yet, waiting for the field to take shape after the midterms. But if Bush doesn’t run, the list of Republican saviors could be short. Some donors fear Christie will never overcome the Bridgegate scandal. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin so far seems more inclined to stay in the House than to run for president. And to varying degrees, other candidates — such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — are either unknown or untrusted.

The darkest secret in the big money world of the Republican coastal elite is that the most palatable alternative to a nominee such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be Clinton, a familiar face on Wall Street following her tenure as a New York senator with relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation.

“If it turns out to be Jeb versus Hillary we would love that and either outcome would be fine,” one top Republican-leaning Wall Street lawyer said over lunch in midtown Manhattan last week. “We could live with either one. Jeb versus Joe Biden would also be fine. It’s Rand Paul or Ted Cruz versus someone like Elizabeth Warren that would be everybody’s worst nightmare.”

Most top GOP fundraisers and donors on Wall Street won’t say this kind of thing on the record for fear of heavy blowback from party officials, as well as supporters of Cruz and Rand Paul. Few want to acknowledge publicly that the Democratic front-runner fills them with less dread than some Republican 2016 hopefuls. And, to be sure, none of the Republican-leaning financial executives are so far suggesting they’d openly back her.

But the private consensus is similar to what Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said to POLITICO late last year when he praised both Christie — before the bridge scandal — and Clinton. “I very much was supportive of Hillary Clinton the last go-round,” he said. “I held fundraisers for her.”

People close to Blankfein say the same calculus applies to a Jeb Bush-Hillary Clinton race as it would to a Christie-Clinton contest. “Those would be two very good choices and we’d be perfectly happy with them,” a person close to Blankfein said. Blankfein is a self-described Democrat, but his comments about Christie and Clinton reflect the ambidextrous political approach that many Republicans and Democrats on Wall Street take.

There are, of course, other GOP candidates who could emerge as favorites of the financial industry after making their case over the next few months.

Rubio, even with his rocky start on immigration, has impressed many on Wall Street, including the Blackstone Group’s Steve Schwarzman, during his forays to the city.

Both Walker and Ryan will be in New York on May 13, Walker for an Republican National Committee fundraiser and Ryan for a reelection event hosted by a wide range of major donors, including hedge fund magnates Cliff Asness and Paul Singer and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. Walker also will be holding meetings in New York this week as the “Wall Street primary” continues. Kasich, a former Lehman Brothers managing director, is viewed as a candidate who might fit the consensus, center-right mold favored by Wall Street. But multiple GOP operatives and donors said they see few signs Kasich, who is in the midst of a reelection fight, is currently organizing for a run.

Instead, the donors, financial executives and Washington representatives offered a consistent refrain: If we can’t nominate someone like Bush or Christie from the pro-business wing of the party, and if the GOP nominee is from the far right, then we will hold our noses and tolerate Clinton.

“Most people in the industry find her approachable and have a track record with her,” one Republican financial services executive said. “They wouldn’t align with her on every policy, but they won’t view her as hostile to the sector. If it turns out to be Hillary walking away with it, there would not be any panic.”

Clinton, after all, was New York’s senator for eight years, where the financial district was a key constituency. She had many Wall Street rainmakers as advisers and friends. Her family has continued to work that network to try to stock the Clinton Foundation with a $250 million endowment before a presidential run. And she’s been out on the financial services speaking circuit, giving talks to Goldman Sachs and fireside-style chats with the heads of the Carlyle Group and the investment firm KKR.

Clinton warmed some hearts on Wall Street during a paid, closed-press speech to Goldman Sachs executives and other big donors last year when she said of the financial crisis, in essence: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. That line, as the people on hand interpreted her speech, reflects the feelings of many financiers. They know they played a role in the 2008 financial collapse but argue that many other factors did as well, including federal housing policy and irresponsible borrowers lying on mortgage documents. Wall Street sees in Clinton someone who would not look to score easy political points at its expense.

This is not to say that Clinton is the preference of Republicans in the financial sector — far from it. Most shake their heads when asked directly if Clinton is someone they could support. But when the contrast is against some of the non-establishment hopefuls, their comfort level becomes clearer.

This line of thinking is a direct response to fiery rhetoric from people like Rand Paul, who used the 2013 CPAC conference in Washington to rip the financial industry, saying “there is nothing conservative about bailing out Wall Street.”

Ted Cruz, whose wife works at Goldman Sachs, is viewed negatively by many in the industry for his support of last year’s government shutdown and scorched earth approach to political battle. Cruz fired up an activist gathering in New Hampshire earlier this month with the kind of provocative populist message that makes bankers very nervous. “The rich and powerful, those who walk the corridors of power, are getting fat and happy,” Cruz thundered. At the same event, Paul argued that the GOP “cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people and Wall Street.”

That kind of talk leaves some rich people contemplating the notion of supporting Clinton in what would amount to a reversion to 2008, when Wall Street money went nearly 2 to 1 for then-Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain. Even those who could never back her don’t see her as a huge threat to the business community.

“I tell you this, I hope he does decide to run,” Al Hoffman, a GOP megadonor who chaired George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, said of Jeb Bush, noting the former Florida governor’s positions on immigration reform and national education standards rile populists but line up well with business groups and the broader electorate.

He said his clear preference is not to see Clinton as president, and he hopes GOP ideals will triumph in 2016. But he added: “Is [Clinton] anti-business? I don’t think so. I hope not. I don’t have any reason to believe that.”

The current fervor for Bush, stoked by the former governor’s multiple appearances in New York and elsewhere in which he has said he‘ll decide about a presidential run after the midterms, follows the rapid decline of Christie as a Wall Street darling.

Thus far, nothing has come out directly tying Christie to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and lawyers hired by his office released their own internal review exonerating him of involvement. But his association with the debacle and the ongoing inquiries about it have left even Christie’s biggest boosters unsure about his chances in 2016.

“He is basically one email away from extinction,” said one deep-pocketed Christie supporter, who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly.

One Christie backer said the New Jersey governor’s political fate could rest on the ascension of people like Paul and Cruz, arguing their rise could force the party’s donor class to embrace Christie’s positives as a candidate, even with the baggage that Bridgegate may bring.

“The bulk of the big money guys are either Big Boy or Jeb,” said one top GOP donor, referring to Christie. “Rand Paul still is a grass-roots phenom and a boardroom horror show.”

Paul has made multiple efforts to woo the donor class, including appearing with a handful of Mitt Romney backers and his finance director Spencer Zwick in Massachusetts just last week. But many New York financial bundlers remain concerned.

Others say Christie receding and Bush’s indecision has left the GOP 2016 field in a state of limbo as donors focus on the midterms.

“There’s a good sense on the GOP side that we’ve got a decent chance to win a majority in the Senate and thus make a major impact on legislation in the next two years,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “Most of the major donors who I know are keeping their powder dry in terms of the presidential elections. It’ll take a longer time for major donors to get comfortable with the major contenders than it has in previous years.”

That may be true for all the candidates except Bush, who already inspires great confidence on Wall Street and would have little trouble collecting the money in both direct and super PAC donations to play a long game in the primaries should he lose an early state or two to a candidate perceived as more conservative on social or fiscal issues, as happened to Romney in 2012.

So the big question remains, will Jeb run?

People close to him say that he’ll decide over the summer whether issues in his family life, including his wife’s Columba’s distaste for the public eye, will allow him to enter the race in a fully committed way.

Bush, who has worked hard in recent years to build up a sizable nest egg, also would face questions over his business dealings, as highlighted in a recent New York Times article that noted his work on behalf of Lehman Brothers and a bankrupt Miami building materials company.

So far, people close to Bush say that nothing has arisen that would make the former governor decide against running. “Most of the issues that could be raised have surfaced,” said a person who knows Bush. “The immigration reform issues and now the business dealings and the family questions. And that’s it. There’s no more big surprises out there.” This person described Bush’s decision as a true tossup.

Others big donors who do not know the governor well say they are much more skeptical that he will ultimately decide to run given the fierce attacks he would face in early primary states from presumably very well-funded conservative candidates.

Should Bush announce after the midterms that he is not running, a frenzy would ensue among others to fill the establishment slot in the primaries.

“If a scenario unfolds where neither Christie nor Jeb Bush are running, what you would see in the major donor community would be regional factionalization clustered around the sitting governors,” said Phil Musser, a GOP consultant and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “What Jeb and to a slightly lesser degree Christie have is the ability to reach nationally and solidify major donor support if they were to enter the race.”

And if none of the sitting governors or a Wall Street-friendly candidate like Ryan can wrest the nomination from the likes of a Paul or a Cruz?

“In that situation,” one Wall Street executive said, “then Hillary seems relatively tolerable.” your social media marketing partner


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+39 # AUCHMANNOCH 2014-05-03 15:58
Poor old America, looks like the same old same old coming down the road for you lot. A two horse race where Wall Street wins and the American people lose.
+9 # jsluka 2014-05-04 00:57
Indeed. Its so scary you might hope this story is satire. Even though there's no real chance of "the Hillary" being the Rethuglican presidential candidate because she is certain to be selected by the Dumbocrats anyway, it shows how little difference there is between the only parties on the American political scene, and just how fundamentally corrupt the US political system has become. Sad indeed; in fact, a crying shame.
+2 # shraeve 2014-05-04 03:30
They were talking about voting for the Democratic ticket, headed by Clinton.
+33 # RMDC 2014-05-03 21:34
All of this is pretty sickening. Why should US politics be so heavily influenced by the soulless skin-bags of wall street? A Hillary vs Jeb contest would be the worst ever. I'm sure most people will stay at home close to the toilet so they can puke when the results come in. It won't matter which wins, both are just sickening.
+20 # MidwesTom 2014-05-03 21:50
Anyone who doubted Hillary's association with Wall Street should read this. It is interesting that this Wall Street guy is afraid of several Republicans, but no Democrats. That is a line you don't read every day.
+14 # CTPatriot 2014-05-03 22:21
Perhaps you missed the part where they mentioned being terrified of Elizabeth Warren? Kinda sucks when you're so blinded by ideology that you miss something so important that it totally negates your implication. Speaking of which, the Republicans that were mentioned as being feared has more to do with their being insane than it does any damage they would do to the corporate sector.

I can't think of a single potential Republican candidate who would lift a finger to rein in the corporate sector. Warren, on the other hand, WOULD. Maybe that's why you forgot about her.
+1 # Billy Bob 2014-05-04 00:47
It's called, "not reading the article and inferring that it won't matter".
+8 # dquandle 2014-05-04 02:37
But Warren won't be running for president, and the vicious, war mongering, Wall Street coddling Hillary most probably will try to make her own revolting mark on the pit of filth that Bush/Obama left.
+3 # ericlipps 2014-05-04 08:02
I, for one, didn't miss it. But Warren hasn't declared her candidacy, may never do so, and would be burned in effigy in the South if she did. The Reptilians would have to run a real cuckoo (of which admittedly they have no shortage) to make a victory by her likely.
+11 # Billy Bob 2014-05-04 00:49
This is why the Democratic candidate NEEDS to be Warren.
-1 # jsluka 2014-05-04 01:04
You are certainly right Billy Bob that the Dumbocrat candidate "needs" to be the excellent Elizabeth Warren but, unfortunately, the Dumbocrat party is extremely unlikely to select her over "the Hillary." I wonder if the Vegas bookmakers have a line on betting who will be the Dumbocrat candidate, and what the odds are regarding the great Warren and the dismal Clinton?
-1 # shraeve 2014-05-04 03:22
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or Elizabeth Warren would be their worst nightmare?

You mean someone who actually stands for something.
+9 # Billy Bob 2014-05-04 07:08
You mean 1 who actually stands for something + 2 who don't but are just psychotic loons.
+5 # tigerlillie 2014-05-04 04:08
Uh, what's so secret aabout the association of Hillary Clinton and big money? It''s been true her entire political lifetime.
-6 # RHytonen 2014-05-04 06:55
I keep telling you Hillary is UNELECTABLE.
Has no one noticed the groundswell over the KXL and fracking?

For anyone near a proposed pipeline or fracking, all politics has been set aside for this LIFE THREATENING issue -
(and that number is approaching EVERYONE, according to industry predictions of the next ten years' intended proliferation.)

I'm fully aware you will scoff at this statement - until it threatens at YOUR door.
And it will.

I'll see you out at the pads going Mi'kMaq yourselves, when the nosebleeds start
-probably on "election" day too.
+8 # Billy Bob 2014-05-04 07:12
Somebody WILL be elected. Right now it's hard to imagine that being anybody BUT Clinton, unless Warren decides to challenge her.

If Warren chooses not to run, who else do you propose could possibly beat Clinton?
+4 # Anonymot 2014-05-04 13:43
Any Republican but McCain, Palin or Trump. As a lifelong Democrat, even I would vote against her. She's a fascist in sheep's clothing. She won't come out of the closet. She's et up with power ambitions. And her mindless hypocricy is endlessly offensive.
+4 # Radscal 2014-05-04 14:19
In any given election, 3/4 of eligible voters do not vote.

In poll after poll for 1/2 century, when asked about specific issues, large majorities of Americans are far more progressive than any Democratic Presidential candidate or most CongressPersons.

If we want to beat any and all of the corporatist candidates, we have to promote a candidate who convinces that 3/4 of self-disenfranc hised voters that she/he would actually work for the people's interests.

And of course, we have to stop voting for "the lesser of two evils," because that is exactly why our last two Democratic Presidents have been more corporatist than Nixon.
+1 # tswhiskers 2014-05-04 10:32
This article, if it tells the truth that some Reps. would grin and bear a Clinton presidency, says to me that maybe the Dems need a more center-left candidate for 2016. Given Rep. tolerance for Clinton, perhaps we do need Bernie to run. I still think Biden would make a good president and that the Dem Party should do more to advertise his credentials for a 2016 run. There have been dark horse wins before in presidential races, JFK for one. Clinton has the foreign policy background, but surely there is no point in nominating her for her sex alone. Party politics have become too partisan and even dangerous these days to nominate or vote for her simply because she would be the first woman in the WH. We need Biden, or Bernie, or, if she would run, Warren. As I've said before, Warren is doing an excellent job in the Senate right now and it would be a shame to see her crippled by Congressional Reps., and you can be sure they would do just that. Any Dem. in the WH will be subjected to hounding (as was Bill Clinton) or obstruction (as is Obama) and Reps. will not hesitate to try to impeach ANY Dem. president; they will use any tool in the Constitutional playbook and some that aren't in their fight to win a solid Rep. majority in all 3 branches of govt. If that happens, the God help us the people then.
-1 # Anonymot 2014-05-04 13:47
Clinton's expertise is in picking pants suits to go with the foreign country she visits. She has ZERO experience in foreign policy or foreign affairs. She left all that to John Brennan at the CIA or Powers or Rice, her fascist friends.

Bernie is great, but wouldn't win. Warren is possible, but neither knows zip about foreign affairs.
0 # dsepeczi 2014-05-05 13:56
Quoting Anonymot:
Clinton's expertise is in picking pants suits to go with the foreign country she visits. She has ZERO experience in foreign policy or foreign affairs. She left all that to John Brennan at the CIA or Powers or Rice, her fascist friends.

Bernie is great, but wouldn't win. Warren is possible, but neither knows zip about foreign affairs.

Based on all of our foreign policy blunders, I'd say someone that "knows zip about foreign affairs" would be an improvement.
+3 # Radscal 2014-05-04 14:27
This is one of the most insightful articles I've seen on the current situation with the 2016 election.

It doesn't matter to Power which party flavor the corporatist/mil itarist/oligarc hic spokesperson in the White House is.

They have their A Team, which is the Republicans. But if they can't get the A Team in, they're content to put the B Team Democrats in, as long as they toe the line... which almost all do.
+4 # AUCHMANNOCH 2014-05-05 06:14
'Bernie is great, but wouldn't win. Warren is possible, but neither knows zip about foreign affairs.'

Tell me - did the last president and the current one know anything about foreign affairs. All they know about foreign affairs is killing foreigners and getting free trade agreements that further enrich their rich friends.

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