Sunday, April 26, 2015

Straws in the wind: cul-de-sacs and sugar daddies

The evolving 2016 presidential campaign is not gripping, at least to me. Hillary evokes no enthusiasm. Yes, she represents a significantly lesser evil and we have to elect her, but the best she draws from me is a dutiful sigh. And the Republicans are dangerous, disgusting, and clownish.

But things are flying about in the 2016-horserace that I suspect may eventually have meaning. Consider these tidbits:

It’s an awkward dance for Republicans, who face divergent pressures: a party electorate skeptical of a top priority of President Barack Obama; a public increasingly convinced of the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming; and donors tied to oil and coal eager to head off new government mandates.

“Republicans have essentially painted themselves into a corner on climate change in the last few years,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. “They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Bloomberg, April 22 2015

And obviously, the corner Republicans have painted themselves into is not merely about climate change. In deference to their fearful, aging white male base, they cannot present realistic responses to any number of issues on which polling now shows them out of step with a majority of the electorate: immigration reform with a path to citizenship for our undocumented residents, raising the minimum wage, marriage equality and protection for employment and housing rights for LGBT people, and even Obamacare which has lately polled positive support.

Meanwhile, the Supremes have given the green light to billionaires to buy whatever political influence they wish by directly supporting candidates. The same Republicans who can't offer anything most of us want in the way of policy are scrambling for the spoils.

Forget the top one percent, the top 0.01 percent of Americans gave nearly 42 percent of all political donation dollars in the 2012 election cycle. Just over 30,000 individuals contributed nearly half of all money. It is no coincidence that this proportion has increased steadily as economic inequality has increased. In 1990 when I was born, the figure was just under 13 percent. If we expanded the scope to the full one percent, you can be damn sure they gave the overwhelming majority of dollars in recent years.

Daily Kos, April 20 2015

According to Politico’s Alex Isenstadt, Marco Rubio has him a Super-PAC sugar daddy who’s going to race past the records set by Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess in personal investments in presidential candidates last time out, in part because said sugar daddy, an 82-year old billionaire named Norman Braman, is motivated not just by love for Rubio but by a serious grudge against Jeb Bush:

The Miami businessman, Braman’s friends say, is considering spending anywhere from $10 million to $25 million — and possibly even more — on Rubio’s behalf, a cash stake that could potentially alter the course of the Republican race by enabling the Florida senator to wage a protracted fight for the nomination.

Washington Monthly

"We will support whoever the candidate is," David Koch said to donors at a fundraising event hosted by the New York State Republican Party on Monday, according to The New York Times. "But it should be Scott Walker."

Talking Points Memo

Now here's a new wrinkle: Jeb Bush is planning to outsource the entirety of the part of his campaign that engages with the electorate to his Super PAC. Mail, TV ads, get-out-the-vote ... all passed off to paid professional consultants. How smooth. This innovative arrangement would get rid of any limits to the contributions of plutocrats and even avoid the minor annoyance of reporting who is paying for the campaign. The candidate presumably would just travel about a bit, tooting his horn, while most of the work went on without his participation.

Jeb Bush is preparing to embark on an experiment in presidential politics: delegating many of the nuts-and-bolts tasks of seeking the White House to a separate political organization that can raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash.

... The architects of the plan believe the super PAC's ability to legally raise unlimited amounts of money outweighs its primary disadvantage, that it cannot legally coordinate its actions with Bush or his would-be campaign staff.

... The exact design of the strategy remains fluid as Bush approaches an announcement of his intention to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. But at its center is the idea of placing Right to Rise in charge of the brunt of the biggest expense of electing Bush: television advertising and direct mail.

Right to Rise could also break into new areas for a candidate-specific super PAC, such as data gathering, highly individualized online advertising and running phone banks. Also on the table is tasking the super PAC with crucial campaign endgame strategies: the operation to get out the vote and efforts to maximize absentee and early voting on Bush's behalf.

Talking Points Memo

Note that all the noisy and fractious apparatus of political party leaders and local honchos would thus be bypassed. Also bypassed, ideologically motivated citizen participation. This setup certainly would make a campaign easier to manage.

But consider this, from Walter Shapiro, a veteran journalist/observer of U.S. presidential politics:

If Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign is remembered at all, it's for the weirdness ...When Perot announced on the Larry King show in February 1992 that he would run for president and spend what it takes if supporters would put him on the ballot in all 50 states, he touched off a populist uprising. By May, Perot was leading the three-way field in a Time/CNN poll with 33 percent of vote with Bush at 28 percent and Clinton, the de facto Democratic nominee, at 24 percent. ... The Perot soufflé, which fell as fast as it rose, serves as a reminder of the theoretical vulnerability of the two-party system to a free-spending outsider.

... Until the Citizens United decision, the only practical way to run for president as an independent was to be a billionaire self-funder like Perot. For there was no plausible way for someone operating outside the traditional party structures to raise enough startup money with $2,500 checks and small donations to get a serious campaign off the ground. ...

But the rise of Super PACs -- and the loose regulation that has allowed them to become surrogate presidential campaigns -- has changed the equation. ...

Sooner or later, a public figure far steadier than Perot and armed with Super PAC money is going to follow the same trail.

It seems to me that a party which has driven itself into an unpopular cul-de-sac would be ripe for a billionaire breakaway like this. Which Republican plutocrat will be first to decide that he could run the United States better than any of these hired clowns?

Like Perot, who ran a strange one-note candidacy against the deficit, such a plutocrat could break the ideological logjam within which Republicans have enmeshed themselves to promote whatever personal hobby horse drove his investment in the process. Disaffected voters might flock to such a person -- at least for awhile. Would traditional party loyalties overcome the excitement of what seemed a possible alternative?

I don't see anything like this is 2016; our plutocrats are placing their bets and parties and candidates still matter. But in 2020? Or 2024 if our democratic process still seems as stuck as it is today?

Republicans seem far more vulnerable to this fate than today's Democrats. The donkey party is mostly pretty united around a quasi-populist domestic agenda. Now if Hillary ginned up yet another war, all bets are off. Off -- except perhaps hindered because the Democrats as not currently as well supplied with self-centered billionaires. Republicans on the other hand seem to have a large supply of very entitled plutocrats.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I have not given up on a real alternative arising to Hillary. The one that looks most promising to me is O'Malley. So far, I know nothing bad about him and his work in Maryland was pretty good in terms of the issues. I don't think we should consider Hillary a fait accompli. She has not even addressed the issues (she didn't do that last time either) and the Clinton record for caring about working class issues is questionable. She talks it right now but what programs are she committing to and could we trust her if she did? There are several possibilities besides O'Malley but he sounds the most progressive and likely of them. I hope Democrats don't put all their eggs in Hillary's basket and their foundation might yet have some nasty surprises that could throw the whole thing to the right in '16. A terrifying thought.

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