After former GOP hopeful Jeb Bush’s well-financed super PAC failed to save his campaign during the 2016 Republican primary, it’s tempting to think these organizations are not the nefarious forces they were once feared to be.
After all, the former governor of Florida’s Right to Rise super PAC had a budget of more than $116 million to use against his adversaries. Bush still stumbled badly during the summer and continued his free fall as the race intensified prior to the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. He failed to do well in either contest and dropped out after a dismal showing in South Carolina. Not a single Right to Rise dollar seemed to be well-spent.
But while a super PAC may not make a candidate, it can still, if used effectively, upend one. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s struggles in this primary are partly due to the sheer number of ads that super PACs tied to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have run against him.
The best example of the destructive power of a super PAC — an outside group that can accept unlimited donations but can’t legally coordinate with the campaigns it supports — remains Newt Gingrich.
The former House speaker was riding high off his victory in the South Carolina Republican primary in the 2012 election when the contest turned to Florida. Forseveral weeks, Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney, spent more than $15 million in ads, 92 percent of them aimed at Gingrich. All told, Restore Our Future ran 12,768 ads against Gingrich, compared to the 210 ads that Gingrich aired against Romney. It was a bloodbath, as Gingrich recalled in this week’s episode of “Candidate Confessional”.