The first pri­mary of 2016: Staff hir­ing

White House hope­fuls line up aides

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

A few weeks ago Sen. Ted Cruz dropped a sur­prise in the mid­dle of a ca­sual pol­icy dis­cus­sion with a prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist.

The fresh­man Texas se­na­tor pre­dicted that long­time Repub­li­can at­tor­ney Ben Gins­berg would serve as his cam­paign lawyer should Mr. Cruz run for the 2016 GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

The state­ment caught the sup­porter by sur­prise. Mr. Cruz, after all, has be­come one of the Se­nate’s most stub­born non­con­formists, un­afraid to buck his party’s lead­er­ship while lay­ing out his own vi­sion of con­ser­vatism with from-the-hip speeches that re­quire no pre­pared text.

Mr. Gins­berg, on the other hand, is the quin­tes­sen­tial es­tab­lish­ment GOP fig­ure, a care­fully scripted cam­paign lawyer who has served as coun­sel for the likes of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, the Bush-Cheney cam­paign and Mitt Rom­ney’s pres­i­den­tial bids.

The episode re­lated by a par­tic­i­pant in the con­ver­sa­tion is a not-so-sub­tle re­minder that the first “pri­mary” of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion contest — the race to hire bat­tle-tested cam­paign staff — is al­ready well un­der­way, even be­fore the fi­nal bal­lots of this year’s midterm elec­tion are counted. It’s also a re­minder that staff are of­ten hired for their ex­pe­ri­ence and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, and not to win a pop­u­lar­ity contest with vot­ers.

Mr. Cruz has al­ready shored up his staff by hir­ing veteran con­gres­sional aide Paul Teller as a top Se­nate aide, giv­ing him a steady hand to make sure his con­gres­sional ac­tions don’t rock his pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions.

The fresh­man Texas se­na­tor isn’t alone in lin­ing up bat­tle-tested staff for a pos­si­ble 2016 run. Ben Car­son, the pe­di­atric neu­ro­sur­geon-turned-con­ser­va­tive sen­sa­tion, has al­ready an­nounced that Hous­ton busi­ness­man and long­time GOP ac­tivist Terry Giles would serve as his cam­paign chair­man should he get in the race. And Mr. Car­son has hired veteran fundrais­ing and email strate­gist Mike Mur­ray to over­see his dig­i­tal fundrais­ing and out­reach ef­forts.

Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky also has be­gun build­ing a na­tional in­fra­struc­ture for the pri­maries, choos­ing for­mer Iowa GOP Chair­man Steve Grubbs to run his ef­forts in the first cau­cus state and re­spected GOP strate­gist Mike Bi­undo to over­see his ef­forts in New Eng­land, in­clud­ing the first pri­mary state of New Hamp­shire.

Along with se­cur­ing staff, the 2016 hope­fuls also get to use this year’s elec­tion to earn chits from politi­cians. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Paul and House Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, have cam­paigned and raised money tire­lessly for their party’s 2014 can­di­dates.

Such ground­work is common for any White House hope­ful.

But the early 2016 GOP field has three can­di­dates in Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Car­son whose ap­peal has been built on be­ing Wash­ing­ton out­siders will­ing to buck, shun and even ridicule the es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton. The art of col­lect­ing chits and hir­ing staffers can, at times, run con­trary to those sto­ry­lines.

Mr. Paul, for in­stance, was forced early this year to throw his support be­hind fel­low Ken­tuck­ian Mitch McCon­nell in a tough Se­nate pri­mary against a more con­ser­va­tive chal­lenger, and later in Mr. McCon­nell’s re-elec­tion race against Demo­cratic chal­lenger Ali­son Lun­der­gan Grimes. As Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, Mr. McCon­nell at times has tried to cut deals with the White House and Se­nate Democrats that over the years have alien­ated some con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists. Mr. Paul’s support ini­tially gen­er­ated some rum­blings among anti­estab­lish­ment ac­tivists.


Mr. Cruz re­cently trans­ferred $250,000 in funds from his po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tions to the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee, the cam­paign arm of the Repub­li­can Se­nate es­tab­lish­ment. And Mr. Cruz’s po­ten­tial courtship of Mr. Gins­berg has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate its own dis­con­tent.

Some grass-roots con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists are still angry at Mr. Gins­berg for what they see as his ef­forts to re­strain their ac­cess and in­flu­ence to the es­tab­lish­ment. Mr. Gins­berg, for in­stance, en­gi­neered a power play on be­half of Mr. Rom­ney at the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion, per­suad­ing del­e­gates to adopt rules changes that trans­ferred power from the pri­mary and cau­cus vot­ers in the states to the pu­ta­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee at con­ven­tion time.

For many re­li­gious and so­cial con­ser­va­tives, Mr. Gins­berg’s big­gest trans­gres­sion is his 2013 sign­ing of a brief sent to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex mar­riage, a pol­icy Mr. Cruz op­poses.

“Gins­berg’s work has left a bad taste in the mouths of not just newly ac­tive Repub­li­cans, but in many GOP con­ser­va­tives who have been fight­ing th­ese bat­tles for a very long time,” said Carolyn McLarty of Ok­la­homa, the chair­woman of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s Res­o­lu­tions Com­mit­tee.

Mor­ton Black­well, a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Vir­ginia, added, “I would con­sider that very un­for­tu­nate” if Mr. Cruz brought Mr. Gins­berg aboard for a 2016 race.

In fact, a Gins­berg-Cruz al­liance in 2016 wouldn’t be that far-fetched given the two men’s his­tory. Mr. Cruz helped George W. Bush’s 2000 cam­paign as­sem­ble the le­gal all-star team of fu­ture Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts, su­per­at­tor­ney Mike Garvin, fu­ture Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Ted Ol­son and Mr. Gins­berg to help win the Florida re­count dis­pute.

And Mr. Cruz hired Mr. Gins­berg to be his cam­paign at­tor­ney for his suc­cess­ful 2012 run for the Se­nate.

Right now, Mr. Cruz al­ready has a cam­paign fi­nance at­tor­ney, the well­re­garded Wash­ing­ton lawyer Cleta Mitchell. Aides said they had not heard about the Gins­berg anec­dote and know of no hir­ing yet, though they left a fu­ture door open.

Cruz spokesman Cather­ine Fra­zier said in an in­ter­view that her boss and Mr. Gins­berg “are good friends. They have worked to­gether in the past, and it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble they could work to­gether again. But we have made no hires to that end.”

Mr. Gins­berg did not re­turn re­peated calls to his of­fice seek­ing com­ment.

In the end, veteran cam­paign ob­servers say can­di­dates don’t hire staff to win pop­u­lar­ity con­tests but rather to get the best tal­ent on the mar­ket for each crit­i­cal job in a cam­paign. On that front, Mr. Gins­berg is re­garded as a cam­paign fi­nance le­gal ea­gle.

Mis­sis­sippi Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber Henry Bar­bour last year called Mr. Gins­berg “the go-to lawyer for Repub­li­can fed­eral cam­paigns. Any­one run­ning for pres­i­dent would do well to have him on their team.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another 2016 hope­ful, re­cently hired Mr. Gins­berg as part of his de­fense team against a state crim­i­nal indictment that claims Mr. Perry had abused his pow­ers as gov­er­nor.

“I wouldn’t think court­ing Gins­berg poses a prob­lem for Cruz,” said Spring­field, Illi­nois, at­tor­ney Terry Campo, a for­mer Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. “It shows Cruz doesn’t in­tend to be re­garded as a fringe can­di­date.”

Mr. Campo called the idea of Mr. Cruz even­tu­ally mak­ing Mr. Gins­berg his 2016 cam­paign lawyer “a shrewd tac­ti­cal move. It heads off hav­ing Gins­berg, one of the top con­ven­tion rules peo­ple, work­ing the rules against Cruz,” said Mr. Campo. “Ben is one of the top cam­paign fi­nance lawyers the party has.”


Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (above) hinted he may hire “good friend” and po­lit­i­cal lawyer Ben Gins­berg (top) for a po­ten­tial 2016 White House bid.

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