Today’s Campaign Update (Because the Campaign Never Ends)
A billion dollars just doesn’t buy what it used to buy. – Think about this for a second: Between them, billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg just combined to pour right at a billion dollars of their own personal fortunes into what became two of the most spectacularly failed primary campaigns in American history.
Both men hired massive staffs of hundreds – with Bloomberg, it was thousands – of people who were supposed to be the best and brightest minds in the campaign professional cottage industry. They both paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the cream of the crop of advertising agencies and polling companies and social media outfits to produce slick ads and websites for their campaigns, filled with the latest messages that were sure to appeal to the maximum possible numbers of voters.
Both billionaires literally stuffed the pockets of local and national television channels, along with radio stations and web presences across the spectrum of the nation. Their ads were ubiquitous: At one point in January, I clicked on a link to a story at the Los Angeles Times, and literally every one of the 15 or so ads on the landing page had been bought by Michael Bloomberg. It became impossible to watch a 30-minute sitcom without seeing either Bloomberg or Steyer – or both – in multiple commercial breaks. At times, their ads ran back-t0-back-to-back.
It was, frankly, exhausting.
And what did these two men get for their trouble? What measure of success did they buy with their billion dollars of political spending? According to NBC News, in the only measure that actually matters in a nominating race, the delegate count, Bloomberg secured a grand total of 48 delegates, while Steyer came up with a big, fat zero.
Steyer and Bloomberg aren’t the only examples of big-money campaigns flaming out in recent history, i.e., since Donald Trump came along. Hillary Clinton was able to spend $2 billion on her presidential bid in 2016, outspending candidate Trump by a 3 to 1 margin, and still managed to lose. As I discussed in yesterday’s Campaign Update, Jeb! Bush frittered away roughly $300 million in the GOP primary process and failed to win a single delegate.
Both Clinton and Bush organized the exact same sort of traditional big-money campaigns that Bloomberg and Steyer did, hiring all the best people and ad agencies and social media and polling firms. The only thing all that money brought to them in the end was the stench of desperation and miserable failure.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign consisted of Corey Lewandowski and about a dozen other people. He actively campaigned against the DC-based professional political class, calling them all a part of the DC Swamp that he was coming to Washington to drain. The fact that Trump won by running such an overtly anti-political class campaign is why they all hate him so, and why the few such pros who have chosen to work for Trump have become pariahs among others in their profession.
Now comes this cycle’s Democrat nominating process, and all the candidates who have raised gobs of money only to flame out of the process. And it isn’t just Bloomberg and Steyer: Beto O’Rourke, fresh off spending a whopping $90 million and losing a Texas Senate race in 2018, initially raised tons of cash, only to see his public appeal crash and burn. Kamala Harris was the early favorite of both the corrupt news media and the DC professional political class. She also raised a ton of early cash and she also crashed and burned, flaming out before we even moved into 2020.
Bernie Sanders has consistently led the Democrat field in fundraising, the vast majority of it from small-money contributors. He even managed to become the clear front-runner in the race for about 30 seconds before Joe Biden, his campaign almost dead broke and having been largely written off by all the “experts” just 10 days before, came storming back in South Carolina on Saturday.
Biden then parlayed the momentum out of South Carolina to sweeping wins in 9 of 14 states on Super Tuesday, and is suddenly back in the driver’s seat with a clear path to being able to win the majority of delegates needed to secure the party’s nomination on the first ballot at its July convention in Milwaukee. You haven’t seen any slick, high-dollar Joe Biden ads because he hasn’t had the money to fund them. Biden wasn’t really worried about Steyer and Bloomberg creating a talent shortage in the available professional political class, because he hasn’t had the money to hire any of them anyway.
The reality of the last 10 days is that Joe Biden has been able to dispatch the billionaires and jump back into the clear lead in this race while running essentially the same kind of campaign that Trump ran throughout 2015 and 2016. It’s a campaign based almost purely on earned media and the candidate’s personality.
True, Biden’s personality is not remotely similar to Trump’s, but it doesn’t need to be. Biden is appealing to a completely different subset of the American people than Trump targeted 4 years ago. Trump was messaging to the part of the population that wants to clean out the Swamp. Biden is appealing to voters who want mythical free stuff from the government, and if that means the rehabilitation and perpetuation of the Swamp, they don’t care. Doing that requires a different kind of character and different messages, but the construct of the campaigns are strikingly similar.
The fact of the matter is that Trump has changed the requirements for what it takes to run a successful presidential campaign in modern times and we are seeing that reality play out in real time in this Democrat race for the nomination. While all the “experts” in the DC pundit class are still portraying Sanders as the “outsider” in this race, the truth is that Sanders has run a depressingly conventional campaign filled with slick TV ads, social media buys and a massive paid staff of political pros.
Biden hasn’t done that, but only – and this is key – because he hasn’t been able to raise the money required to fund that kind of campaign. But now, since his big showing on Super Tuesday, the money is suddenly pouring in. With Bloomberg now promising to pour gobs of his own money into Super PACs and other third party efforts supporting Biden, you can now expect the confused former Vice President’s campaign to start bringing in a bunch of ex-Bloomberg staff and, as a result, begin looking a lot like Bloomberg’s campaign – and by extension, just like the Hillary Clinton campaign looked four years ago.
This will happen to Biden because the candidate himself is likely as clueless about the real nature of his recent success as he is about which state he happens to be in on any given day. And you can bet that none of the political pros on his staff are going to put their own jobs in jeopardy by telling him.
In an appearance on Fox News last night, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway told host Martha MacCallum that she thinks Joe Biden will end up being this year’s Hillary Clinton. She’s exactly right because, having helped to create it, she understands the way Donald Trump has forever changed the nature of our presidential politics.
That is all.
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