Yesterday Ed shared the news that the community of political experts was rather gobsmacked to find out that PACs associated with Texas Senator Ted Cruz had brought in a “record haul” in no time flat following his campaign announcement. While it would be lovely to pretend that money in politics doesn’t mean all that much and what really counts is grassroots support and a solid message, that’s simply not true. Does anyone really think Mitt Romney would have survived the 2012 fight without the mountains of cash behind him, both internally and through associated PACs? That’s a doubtful proposition at best, though the money wasn’t the only reason. (More on that below.) But as Ed already suggested, the cash may not be as important in and of itself as the message – if not shock wave – it sends to the rest of the candidates and the media.
At National Review, Kevin Williamson notes that the guy who can’t possibly win is looking pretty good.
So, the guy who a fortnight ago could not possibly ever in a million billion gazillion years win is raising unprecedented amounts of money. What gives?
What a great many self-proclaimed political sophisticates do not get is that politics on the Right is not dominated by the Republican party; it is dominated by the never-ending contest between a Republican party that wants to make the conservative movement its instrument and a conservative movement that wants to make the GOP its instrument. Listen to the talk-radio callers, or read the comments at NRO, and you will find that conservatives believe—wrongly, I think, but deeply—that the Republican muckety-mucks have shoved candidates down their throats, and that the GOP powers-that-be would rather lose with John McCain and Mitt Romney (and Jeb Bush) than win with Cruz. (Again, I think this line of thinking is erroneous: Romney became the nominee not because Republican power-brokers conspired on his behalf, but because the guy I liked couldn’t beat him.) That feeling is not limited to the people who call into radio shows.
To at least some degree I think Kevin makes a valid point. There is sometimes too much magical power attributed to “The Establishment” in the Republican Party when it comes to candidate selection in both national and statewide elections. That’s not to imply they are powerless. You can’t discount the advantages of a big podium which acts as a constant media magnet or an entrenched fundraising network with an address book full of proven donors to the cause. Those are serious forces to contend with when you’re trying to break in from the outside. But as each race plays out, the one thing that the Party can’t do is fill out ballots at the polls or forcibly change the opinions of people in bars, diners or car pools who have their imagination fired up by a fresh voice. You can’t astroturf your way past the genuine article.
This is the part of the story which circles back to Ted Cruz. He wasn’t supposed to win the Republican primary in Texas… David Dewhurst was. The Lt. Governor was endorsed by Rick Perry and funded by the state party. Cruz was outspent by nearly three to one but the final count wasn’t even close. He’s not alone in that category either. There have been other upstarts – not limited to Rand Paul – who have showed up out of the blue and made a big splash with the grassroots. So, as I said, Williamson has a point when he says that Romney didn’t win solely because of the cash behind him because cash alone will not secure victory. (But it obviously doesn’t hurt.)
So what does this say about the state of Republican fundraising and internecine struggles? I’ll leave you with this closing thought from Williamson.
We have a tea-party movement, and a raucous and rivalrous gang of independent groups, precisely because GOP leaders cannot exercise the sort of control over their coalition that Democrats do over theirs. Left-leaning PACs and independent groups are a supplement to the Democrats’ machine; right-leaning groups are an alternative to the Republicans’ machine.
That may be the best description of the core difference between liberal and conservative politicking I’ve ever read.