Wall Street for Hillary Clinton? Don't rule it out

Hillary by default?

The Republican elite on Wall Street and in much of corporate America has a little secret.

As Maggie Haberman and I report in POLITICO, the secret is that if Republicans don't wind up nominating a center-right candidate for president in 2016 such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the back-up plan may well turn out to be Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The reasons are fairly obvious. The alternative to a Christie or Bush candidacy could well turn out to be a populist flame-thrower like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ted Cruz of Texas. Both seem intent to mount 2016 campaigns for president and both love to roast Wall Street fat cats in their stump speeches to party activists in early states such as New Hampshire.

Never mind that should either of them get the GOP nomination, their policies likely would stop well short of the 80 percent tax rates and wealth levies advocated by serious populists like French economist Thomas Piketty.

Wall Street Republicans are sufficiently angered by the rhetoric from Cruz and Paul and the real threat of further policies to break up and regulate large banks—so they would likely turn to Clinton as a bulwark should there be no other palatable choice.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images

Clinton, after all, represented Wall Street and the rest of New York for eight years in the Senate.

She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have deep ties to the financial industry and regularly raise tens of millions of dollars from financial rainmakers. And Hillary Clinton is viewed as significantly to the right of Democratic populists in the mold of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

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Clinton could get nudged left in a Democratic primary even though Warren herself has repeatedly said she will not run. But once nominated, Clinton would likely push back to the center enough to ease concern in the business community about big new taxes or onerous regulations.

None of this is to suggest that Republicans on Wall Street or elsewhere in corporate America really want to back Hillary Clinton for president.

Indeed they very much hope that Jeb Bush decides to run and manages to sell his policies on immigration reform and national education standards. These policies are deeply offensive to much of the GOP base but beloved by many in industry who view then as critical to long-term American competitiveness.

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The fear in elite GOP circles is that if Bush decides not to run—as he very well may based on family and other concerns—their list of saviors could run short. Christie, some worry, may not recover from the Bridgegate scandal. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is regarded highly on Wall Street but at this point seems inclined to stay in the House and run the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

All the recent talk in the GOP of Mitt Romney running again in 2016 only underscores how desperate the establishment is growing for a standard-bearer.

Of course, there is still plenty of time for a new contender to emerge to occupy the center path in the GOP nominating contest.

The top tier, should neither Bush nor Christie emerge, would include sitting governors led by Scott Walker of Wisconsin (who has several New York trips planned), John Kasich of Ohio and perhaps even Rick Perry in Texas.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence are also mentioned as possible strong 2016 aspirants. And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida remains popular in the party and has made some inroads among Wall Street executives.

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But this second tier, at least at this point, remains somewhat unknown and not trusted. That will change in the coming months as several Republicans emailed me after the POLITICO piece appeared Monday morning.

One senior executive at a large Wall Street bank summed up the attitude, saying of top bankers: "These guys want to be wooed, and there's plenty of time for Walker, et al, to do that."

There is indeed plenty of time. But if they all fail, and the GOP nod goes to Cruz or Paul or someone like them, look for Wall Street money to flow heavily to Hillary Clinton.

—By Ben White. White is POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.