Instapundit recently linked to an essay by “Baseball Crank” that contrasts today’s political climate with the political climate of 1995 – 1996, when Bill Clinton ran for re-election. The essay is interesting and well worth your time to read, and it got me thinking about the upcoming Presidential election, specifically campaign fundraising.
It has been predicted that 2012 might be the first election in US history where the winner will have to spend upwards of $1 billion to get elected. Will that candidate be Barack Obama? Perhaps, but there will be some major differences between 2012 and 2008.
First and foremost, there will be no Messiah running for President in 2012. Not Barack Obama, and certainly not on behalf of the Republicans. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the Era of Hope and Change is over. The overwhelming sense of goodwill and justice that emerged as a compelling reason for upper middle class educated whites to vote for Barack Obama has evaporated. The “racism” card, in lieu of honest efforts to rebut criticisms of the President, has been severely overplayed, which probably explains better than anything else why record numbers of whites are now turning their backs on the Democratic party.
It will also be impossible for the Obama campaign to take millions in secret contributions from Big Finance and Big Energy. The initial “seed money” acquired by Obama’s exploratory committees and campaign organizers in 2006 and 2007 came primarily from big corporate interests, most notably Goldman Sachs. And the 2008 Obama campaign notoriously disabled basic credit card verification on its website, allowing donors to contribute illegally to the campaign by making hundreds or thousands of donations in increments of $10 and $25. It’s unlikely they will be able to get away with that again.
Finally, there is the Tea Party, which in practical terms is a true grassroots organizing and fund raising apparatus of epic proportions. Tea Partiers are fired up and ready to send as many candidates committed to fiscal responsibility to Washington, DC as possible. They are also ready to back that enthusiasm with their checkbooks, and with Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and other populist cheerleaders on board they have the potential to raise unprecedented amounts of campaign cash.
Because he raised so much money privately, Barack Obama became the first major candidate in modern history to refuse public campaign funds. This was a brilliant move on his part, because it exempted his campaign from audits and disclosure requirements. With the financial support of the Tea Party, Republicans should also be able to refuse public campaign funds in 2012, and unless they are incredibly foolish they will do so.
All of this means that in 2012 Barack Obama will find himself running against an opponent who will be backed by an invigorated group of supporters and who will have a huge campaign warchest — just like candidate Obama enjoyed in 2008. But he won’t have the “hope and change” magic to carry him through the primaries and into the general election, and he won’t be able to hide his substantial financial ties to corporate special interests.
It will be an interesting election indeed.