The silence of the big-dollar donors on the Republican side of the race for the White House is deafening these days.
The first round of fundraising reports for the 2012 presidential candidates, released last week, shows the GOP field lagging far behind the 2008 Republican field.
Four years ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the other candidates had raked in $112 million. The GOP class of 2012 has raised a meager $35 million.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, the president has shattered the first-quarter fundraising records for an incumbent. He raised an unprecedented $86 million. That is more than the $60 million goal his campaign had set and easily surpasses the $50.1 million that then-President Bush had raised at the same point in the 2004 cycle.
Republicans had hoped that, with unemployment topping 9 percent and Guantanamo Bay still open, left-wingers might no longer be so enthusiastic about President Obama. The answer from early fundraising is that the president has very enthusiastic supporters.
And the money raised directly by the president’s reelection campaign does not include dollars being pulled in by independent groups supporting him, principally the Democrats’ own super-political action committee, Priorities USA.
Bill Burton, the president’s former deputy press secretary, and Sean Sweeney, who was an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, created Priorities USA with the goal of raising another $100 million to re-elect Obama.
They want to equal any outside funds coming to the GOP side from Karl Rove’s group, American Crossroads, which has a goal of $120 million. After the Supreme Court opened the door to anonymous contributions with the Citizens United ruling, Democrats feared big, anonymous dollars pouring into GOP coffers.
But the big story in American politics so far this year is the exact opposite of a flood of Republican money.
The absence of major money in the Republican primary cannot be blamed on a lack of trying on the part of the candidates.
Romney has been aggressively raising money, even traveling to London for fundraisers. And he has raised the most money of the Republican contenders. Still, the Mitt Romney of 2012, with his $18.3 million take, could not beat the Mitt Romney of 2008, who reported $23 million when he submitted his first disclosure form.
Arguably the most impressive fundraiser in the GOP is still outside the campaign: Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry is shattering fundraising records as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Last quarter, he brought in a record $22 million for the RGA. That has certainly caught the attention of the GOP establishment, especially those who had doubts about whether Perry could finance a presidential campaign. But there is still doubt about whether Perry can raise money as a candidate for the nomination.
Another indication of paltry fundraising by Republicans is that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the iconoclast libertarian candidate, is in second place with $4.5 million.
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who has been described in news reports as in danger of being the first to withdraw from the race, is in third place with $4.3 million, and Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, has used his own wealth to capture fourth place with $4.1 million.
Maybe the big money is waiting on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Several of the wealthiest donors in Iowa Republican politics have been holding back their money in the hopes that Christie will enter the race.
To be fair, any conclusions about these fundraising numbers cannot be fully applied to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Bachmann only announced her candidacy in the final weeks of this fundraising quarter. She has not reported her fundraising numbers but she has $3 million left over from her last congressional campaign when she raised $13 million, making her one of the best performers in the midterm races. All indications are that she will be a formidable fundraiser.
But her fundraising fortune may rely on whether the Republican primary soon becomes the anti-Romney primary. If it does, Bachmann could benefit from a wealth of untapped resources for any GOP candidate who can pose a credible challenge to the establishment look of Romney.
Take this to the bank — based on fundraising, the Republican nomination is now officially Romney’s to lose. At the point he claims the nomination, the big money may come out of hiding as he becomes the alternative to Obama. But hopes and wishes are no match for the billion dollars that Obama is already on track to raise.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. This column first appeared on The Hill. His latest book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) which will be released on July 26.