Bush’s failure shows that money goes only so far in politics.
If there’s a silver lining to the epic failure of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign — other than eliminating the immediate prospect of a third Bush presidency — it might be this: once again it has been demonstrated that having gobs of money at your disposal does not guarantee electoral success.
This is a fact that certain elements of the public find hard to accept. We are treated regularly to warnings against political parties, or individual candidates, who come equipped with fat treasuries they can devote to pillorying opponents and seducing credulous voters. Money in politics corrupts democracy, they say. Wealthy candidates are just trying to buy their way into power.
It’s a conviction that seems to particularly preoccupy the left. In its call for a socialist revolution in Canada, Naomi Klein’s LEAP Manifesto demands the elimination of corporate money from political campaigns, though it’s fine with candidates beholden to labour unions.
Bush’s desultory quest for the Republican nomination is just the latest to disprove the theory. Right to Rise, the Super-PAC devoted to making Bush president, raised more than US$118 million ($162.44 million) last year. PACs — or political action committees — are “independent” organizations that are allowed to raise and spend as much as they like, as long as they are not formally affiliated with the candidate. The Bush campaign raised an additional $ 33 million, for a total of more than $ 150 million, far more than the next biggest spenders, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Bush’s PAC spent $ 65 million on digital, TV and old-fashioned mail flyers attacking his opponents. After Bush “suspended” his campaign (candidates never end their quest any more, they just “suspend” them, forever), the head of Right to Rise was criticized for poor choices and an inept strategy. That may be so, but it amplifies the point: money does not guarantee success, ability or brains.
Bernie Sanders is running Hillary Clinton ragged, though his money- raising capabilities pale next to the global Clinton machine. Mitt Romney was reputedly the wealthiest individual to win the Republican nod since … anyone. It didn’t do him much good against Barack Obama, who ran his campaign on small donations collected over the Internet from millions of donors. The wealthiest candidates have mostly been Democrats — the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, 2004 nominee John Kerry — rather than the supposedly business- friendly Republicans.
If he captures this year’s nomination, as looks increasingly likely, Donald Trump would easily surpass all previous candidates. The Donald claims he’s worth $10 billion. Forbes magazine reckons his fortune is closer to $4 billion. Bloomberg News puts it at $2.9 billion. But in any case, it eclipses all previous nominees. Yet while Trump has personally financed much of his campaign, he has benefited to a far greater degree from the deluge of free publicity he has received from an astonished media, which initially seized on his campaign in anticipation of a humiliating defeat, but has become increasingly agog at the inexplicable success of a man the vast majority of pundits consider an ignorant clown.
Trump could yet f i nd himself up against an even wealthier competitor, if former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg gets into the race. Bloomberg — founder of the Bloomberg business information empire — is estimated to be worth about $ 40 billion, give or take. He is said to be seriously considering an independent run for the presidency if Trump wins the nomination and appears to have a reasonable chance at defeating the Democrats. That would probably depend on Sanders defeating Clinton, setting up a Trump versus Sanders showdown.
Bush’s $ 150 million may look like small change against those figures, but it remains the case that he vastly outspent his rivals and had the capacity to continue outspending them at the same pace, yet couldn’t manage to rise out of single digits in voter support. He was simply a poor candidate — too dull, too earnest, too much the policy wonk in a year when the crowd wants flamethrowers and circus acts.
Trump has spent less than any of the other remaining candidates except John Kasich. At $24 million, it’s only slightly more than the $21 million he gained from selling a Manhattan penthouse last summer. He has flourished despite a pledge by the billionaire Koch brothers — Charles and David — to spend $ 900 million supporting Republicans, except Donald Trump.
If money was the key to success, Stephen Harper would still be prime minister, Michael Bloomberg would have a lock on the presidency and the Kochs wouldn’t be so down-at-the-mouth. The possibility of a Trump presidency may be a terrifying prospect, but no one can say he’s buying the job.
JEB BUSH RAISED AND SPENT MORE THAN HIS RIVALS, BUT FAILED TO CONNECT WITH VOTERS.