Ponnuru takes us through the process:
Why do the donors and bigwigs settle on their candidate earlier than the activists do? Partly because they’re more concerned about picking a winner. Compared to Tea Party ralliers, their support is more of an investment and less of a statement. The most ideologically minded Republicans are willing to back longshot candidates like Herman Cain (the former Godfather’s Pizza executive, never elected to anything, who ran for the nomination last time). The big-money people in the party are less sentimental. They might have liked Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, who also ran last time. But they never saw any signs he could win, and so they never helped him.
The donor class, as a rule, doesn’t seek a candidate with whom it can fall in love.
Hans Hassell presents his findings on candidate selection:
Can parties essentially limit the field of candidates presented to primary voters? My research suggests that they do. …
This isn’t to say that party coordination is easy. As one former Democratic party chair explained to me, “It’s more shifting coalitions, rather than a center, command and control type of model. As chair, I remember walking around often saying ‘Where’s the back room? Where’s the room where I get to go smoke cigars and make all the decisions, because I haven’t found the door.’”
Will a small group of elite GOP donors clear the 2016 presidential field for a particular candidate, whoever that may be? That remains to be seen. But it is clear that parties do have the ability to do so if they can agree on such a candidate.
Bernstein chips in:
Especially on the Republican side, you hear a lot of talk about “establishment” Republicans. There’s no guarantee, however, that any particular faction will win intraparty contests. It’s best to see previous winners, Bob Dole and John McCain and Mitt Romney, as having been acceptable to a broad range of party actors, rather than think of those three as having been anointed by a cabal of “establishment” insiders.