Mitt Romney Is Like Bloomingdale's, Bobby Jindal Is Like Your Corner Boutique

Mike Murphy, college dropout, Republican strategist, screenwriter, and NBC political commentator
Mike Murphy, college dropout, Republican strategist, screenwriter, and NBC political commentator Photograph by Michael Calas/Revolution Agency

How will the field of presidential candidates take shape this year?
We used to call it the invisible primary. Even though we consider 2016 the election year, a lot of the political activity happens in 2015. What’s happened now, with the explosion in what I call the process press, the Politicos, etc.—not to mention cable news networks—is the invisible primary has become incredibly visible. But 2015 is the year in which you try to raise a lot of money, build a national finance committee, and start to actually engage primary voters.

What size bankroll do you need to be a legitimate candidate?
In the old days you used to say that you’ve got to have $25 million raised by Jan. 15 of election year. It was always kind of a phony yardstick. What I care about is cash in the bank on Jan. 1, 2016.

So what’s the range?
I think you’ve got to be in the double-digit millions. You’ve got a long, dry year where you can spend a lot of money talking to voters who aren’t engaged yet or who are happy to change their opinion from one candidate to another, and you can sink a huge cost into organizational stuff and have very little to show for it if you’re not careful. 2015 is a dangerous and difficult time for the dark-horse candidates, who can go broke trying to break through. Though it’s also a dangerous time for the front-runners, because they can stumble and be perceived to have a narrative of going from strong to weak.

Let’s talk about some potential candidates, starting with Hillary Clinton. What’s her task in 2015?
Her issue is going to be fending off criticism from the activist left, which is very strong in her party. Will it manifest itself in a challenger who will force her to go out and spend time and money crushing the insurrection in the party?

Like Elizabeth Warren, for instance?
She keeps saying she’s not running, but she keeps saying it in places like New Hampshire and Iowa. If she runs, she would have a huge boomlet when she starts. The second look would be the issue for her. She should have her ideological content ready to go, so after the excitement she’s got the beef to say, “Here’s the difference between Hillary Clinton and myself on the issues you care about.”

What about the Republicans? Let’s start with Rand Paul.
Rand Paul has had some success organizing a nontraditional coalition. The question is, can he break through a ceiling and get votes outside of the libertarian and younger activist base that he’s built? Are they going to run a 10 percent better version of his dad’s campaign and get 10 percent more delegates, or are they going to find a wider formula to actually be competitive for the real nomination?

Chris Christie?
Christie has the advantage of being somewhat famous, so what they’ve got to figure out are the obstacles to performing outside of his region. Other than New Hampshire, there’s not a big Northeastern voice in the primary system at the beginning. So how does he sell in the South?

Mitt Romney?
I think he can afford to wait, particularly to see what Governor Bush does. But if he decides to run, then how does he build a campaign that could start late and accelerate quickly? Because he doesn’t have to do the preliminary stuff.

Speaking of Jeb Bush …
Well, I advise him, so we’re kind of tight-lipped about it. But he’s well-known and well-liked in the party, so some of the preliminaries a lesser-known candidate like Bobby Jindal has to go through I don’t think he’d have to go through. You have an advantage if you’re a Romney or a Jeb. You will attract a lot of financial support and a lot of voter interest the minute you announce. You want to be sure you’re mechanically ready to service all that interest, that when people want to sign up you have a mechanism to enlist them and put them to work. It’s like opening a very big department store vs. opening a niche store. It’s just an organizational task.

And what about Jindal?
You’re not going to have that tidal wave of organic initial support, so you’ve got to go out and earn it bit by bit, and you have to pick your shots. You have to say, “Where do I break through? Where do I get attention? How do I get media?” He could get earned media by walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers, but that doesn’t help you get elected president. So I think you try to compete on policy ideas, you try to perform well at forums, you look for little process bumps for the media to kind of get overexcited about. Or you get a few key early endorsements, and then Sunday talk shows start talking about you and say, “Oh, that Jindal’s doing a good job of organizing Dubuque, a key swing area of the Iowa caucus.” Then you go to donors with that.

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