Fair is fair — they bought the candidate and the office. Now they want the spoils delivered, and have grown tired of waiting for them. The Daily Beast reports that Joe Biden’s big donors believe they have gotten frozen out of the traditional envoy rewards that come with high-dollar investments in presidential campaigns, calling the silence so far “bullshit”:
They wrote massive checks. They encouraged their deepest-pocketed friends to do the same. They sat through Zoom concerts with James Taylor and Zoom roundtables hosted by Diane Lane and helped pay for an inauguration they didn’t even get to attend.
Now, some of President Joe Biden’s most generous financial backers want what’s coming to them: an ambassadorship—both extraordinary and plenipotentiary, if possible.
And they’re getting sick of waiting.
“It’s bullshit,” one Democratic fundraiser vented. “The number of asks over the course of the campaign, and over the course of the transition, and let’s not even talk about the Zoom convention, and they can’t even remember to make a phone call to the people who kept the lights on.”
Er, what’s the rush? Biden’s only been in office for 23 days. TDB notes that Barack Obama didn’t get around to making formal diplomatic appointments until March 2009. However, it’s all but certain that Obama and his team had engaged what Olivier Knox refers to as “ambassadonors” well before that time. Senate nominations require quite a bit of preparation, especially with financial disclosures, which for wealthy individuals can take quite some time to research and compile.
Also, the ambassadorial appointees have to start brushing up on the basics of their host country as fast as possible. Let’s not forget what happened to George Tsunis when John McCain decided to conduct a modicum of scrutiny to Tsunis’ expertise on Norway in 2014. That turned out so badly that even a former Clinton administration figure accused Obama of selling diplomatic posts rather than finding qualified ambassadors. As much as these donors want their purchased sinecures, they also want to avoid looking ridiculous.
That’s what has donors in revolt. It’s not that they haven’t been nominated, but that they’re being ignored:
“No one is owed an ambassadorship, let me be clear,” said one fundraiser who told The Daily Beast that they are not actively lobbying for a post. “But people are owed the courtesy of a phone call that it’s, you know, not happening.”
Part of the disconnect may be that really isn’t happening. Axios reported two weeks ago that Biden wants to trim down the pay-to-play aspects of American diplomacy, which wouldn’t be a bad idea … except for donors to his campaign. But it might not be all that much different than during the Obama era:
Biden will likely make non-career nominations for about 30% of the roughly 190 total ambassadorships, leaving 70% for the career Foreign Service, according to people familiar with the matter.
That 70:30 ratio would be in line with the traditional breakdown, according to the American Foreign Service Association. President Trump deviated by nominating political ambassadors for about 44% of his appointments.
So perhaps it’s happening, but just a bit more slowly and deliberately than donors would prefer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to fill those roles and maintain proper diplomatic relations with allies and competitors alike. Trump took too long to fill those slots, especially with critical allies in the Middle East. The tasks can be filled for a while by charges d’affaires, but ambassadors carry more weight as specifically chosen by the president as his go-between.
On the whole, though, it appears my #Morrissey4Ireland campaign might not be entirely dead. I assume my phone call will come after those currently auditioning for Glenn Close’s role in the remake of Fatal Attraction, perhaps retitled as Fatal Subtraction in this case.