Bush’s fail­ure shows that money goes only so far in pol­i­tics.

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Kelly McPar­land

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.

MATT ROURKE / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jeb Bush

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