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Brian Flaxman: Campfire Tales of Courageous Heroes Setting Millions of Campaign Funds Ablaze; Chapter The First

Summary:
I am pleased to have another guest post by Brian Flaxman. Although on other occasions he has expressed his concern with the effects on money on politics, today’s post is about times when large amounts of money didn’t have much effect on politics. (His two views can be reconciled: because of the effect of money on name recognition, money could make a big difference in obscure races one never reads about in the national press, but have little effect on marquee races.) In addition to his post below, don’t miss these earlier guest posts of Brian’s:Hear ye hear ye. Grab some mead and gather ‘round for our celebration of the conclusion of another

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Brian Flaxman: Campfire Tales of Courageous Heroes Setting Millions of Campaign Funds Ablaze; Chapter The First

I am pleased to have another guest post by Brian Flaxman. Although on other occasions he has expressed his concern with the effects on money on politics, today’s post is about times when large amounts of money didn’t have much effect on politics. (His two views can be reconciled: because of the effect of money on name recognition, money could make a big difference in obscure races one never reads about in the national press, but have little effect on marquee races.) In addition to his post below, don’t miss these earlier guest posts of Brian’s:

Hear ye hear ye. Grab some mead and gather ‘round for our celebration of the conclusion of another Presidential Campaign cycle. Since the tavern is unfortunately closed due to Covid concerns, we shall sit around the campfire instead, socially distanced of course, for epic tales of courageous heroes. Our tales take place in the faraway land known as the Establishment Campaign Economy. The first things to know about this faraway land are their strong held rules, rituals, and customs. Cornerstones if you will. I shall list them here, as it is hard to become engrossed in such fanciful tales without being familiar with the vibrant world such tales take place in.

The Three Cornerstones of the Establishment Campaign Economy:

1)     The Cornerstone of the Establishment Median voter: In the parlance of political science and political economy, the concept of the median voter is that of the person with the most moderate position of any voter in the district. The idea being that if you win this voter, and everyone to either the left or right of him, you win an election by having the majority of votes. But in the Establishment Campaign Economy, this conceptualized median voter is one that is thought of by people who have far more money than you ever will have. This hypothetical median voter gets really jazzed when you fight for policies like financial deregulation, increasing federal funds for the military industrial complex, and lowering the capital gains tax. Things that working-class voters of all ethnicities and backgrounds constantly yearn for.

2)     The Cornerstone of the Establishment Principle-Agent: The Establishment’s median voter is represented by a candidate, or as is known in economic terms, the principle being represented by an agent. And of course, this candidate is financially supported by people who have far more money than you ever will have. This support is extended not only in the general election, but in the primary contests as well. They ignore all other candidates completely, especially those in primary contests, by not giving them any cash or exposure that might help them gain traction. That is, of course, unless a primary challenger starts to somehow catch up to our esteemed agent in the primary. This will lead to a valiant and noble effort to quickly and completely snuff that challenger out, regardless of the financial cost to do so.

3)     The Cornerstone of the Establishment’s Information Updating (or lack thereof): Failure to win elections need not be evidence of a need to change tactics, especially if your strategy involves not rocking the boat. And previously held beliefs on effective campaigning need not ever undergo updating with new information. Like the fact that in 2020, EVERY SINGLE SWING DISTRICT HOUSE DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENT who signed on to the far-left leaning Medicare-for-All bill actually WON their re-elections. And information like EVERY SINGLE Democratic loss in the House this cycle came from individuals in swing districts who ran as far-right as they could with their tails between their legs. Furthermore, candidates, consultants, and anybody involved in the political process who demonstrates abject failure are those most likely to be given future opportunities to demonstrate that abject failure. And these opportunities come about by being paid by individuals that, as you have probably guessed, have far more money than you ever will have.

These cornerstones will be reoccurring themes in our tales today. Stories of people with obscenely large amounts of money, lighting them on fire like the kindling in the campfire we sit around. Without further ado, I shall now begin tonight’s epic tales.

We begin first with the tale of Michael Bloomberg as a Democratic Party primary candidate, who so valiantly made the sacrifice of setting millions of his own money on fire. His tale actually has two parts and begins with his quest to vanquish the social-democratic platforms of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As you see, these two individuals had the gall of proposing measures that people want. Things like government run healthcare, taking quick action to protect us from an impending climate crisis, and relieving many college graduates across the country of crippling student loan debt. These are two individuals who actually looked at polling trends, and saw that REGARDLESS OF HOW THE MEASURES ARE FRAMED FOR RESPONDENTS, are UNIVERSALLY POPULAR, and saw a way to both help Americans and to help Democratic candidates win elections. But because they do not hold true to the sacred cornerstone of learning absolutely nothing from new information, Michael Bloomberg recognized he had to vanquish these dastardly foes and take matters into his own hands.

In his first heroic quest, Michael Bloomberg lit $570 million of his own money ablaze, an amount that exceeds the GDPs of some small island nations. He spent this money on effortless ventures such as gratuitous TV ad buys, digital marketing, and paying others to do the legwork for him. He did this all without doing any public events, campaign activities, or other things that we did pre-Covid that require actual elbow grease. But Mr. Bloomberg’s fatal flaw came when he failed to hire a debate coach or any type of assistance for his public speaking abilities. This was an oversight that immediately caused his candidacy to plummet to the ground like a lead balloon soon after making the devastating mistake of actually showing up for a debate. He did, however, valiantly claim 31 of the 4,051 possible pledged delegates in the Democratic Primary, which amounts to $18.4 million being set on fire for each pledged delegate he was able to amass. That said, the money he spent to run interference on the Sanders and Warren campaigns was probably a drop in the bucket compared to the tax increases he would have had to pay if their policies were ever enacted. And I’m sure this was not at all the point of his entering the Democratic Primary

In addition to the massive amounts of money he sent ablaze during the Democratic Primary, as a donor in the general election, Mr. Bloomberg ignited an additional $100 million into the ether. And as we know, at a time when many people are struggling because of Covid to remain employed or find new employment, pay for their rent and mortgages, and to put food on the table, there is absolutely nothing better that this money could have gone towards. This money was spent on helping Joe Biden win Texas, Ohio, and Florida, which in the end, helped garner Joe Biden a grand total of ZERO additional electoral votes. One can only hope that some of his ads running in north Florida might have accidently run on stations on the southern border of Georgia, so that his efforts would not have been entirely in vain.

Our second tale for tonight involves the valiant efforts of the Lincoln Project. The brave heroes behind the Project of Lincoln were noble men of the Republican Party who had the bravery and honor to stand up to Donald Trump, and knew it was time to take swift action. Not based on policy grounds mind you, but after seeing the vile scourges of fake economic populism, lack of decorum, and—most galling of all—mean tweets. These are warriors who are familiar with cornerstone of never updating information. As you see, one of brave knights seated at this round table is a man by the name of Steve Schmidt. If you haven’t heard of him, I don’t blame you. However, you have probably heard of John McCain. Steve Schmidt was John McCain’s campaign manager in the 2008 Presidential Election. And you have probably heard of Sarah Palin, the Vice-Presidential candidate that he pushed a reluctant John McCain to select, the Vice-Presidential candidate who some people believe cost McCain the 2008 election.

But remember, in the faraway land of the Establishment Campaign Economy, undeniable evidence of pure, industrial-strength incompetence is never internalized. And thus, Schmidt was later given plenty of opportunities in cable news punditry and campaign consulting. He has been a contributor on MSNBC for several years since 2008 for his political insight (without any instruction to viewers to reverse the direction and do the exact opposite of what he says), where he railed on Donald Trump as the worst president ever. Schmidt also worked on Howard Schultz’s brief foray into presidential politics when he considered running as an independent in the general election—a venture that had some chance of helping Donald Trump win a second term by syphoning off votes from the eventual Democratic nominee. Because after all, the reward of fat stacks of cash to help a President that you vehemently despise win his reelection easily overrides the distain you have for said President.

But back to the fine folks at the Lincoln Project. You see, their goal was to convince likeminded Republicans to vote for Joe Biden instead and against several GOP Senate candidates by running TV and digital marketing, creating ads bashing Trump and GOP Senate Candidates. Granted, some of the ads were actually quite good. Probably not $67 million good, as that is the estimated amount that they raised to perform this venture. A venture that any group of qualified individuals could have done, and likely done even better at just the fraction of the cost. It is also unfortunate that Donald Trump’s support amongst Republicans INCREASED from 90% in 2016 to 94% in 2020. Also, in an election where Democrats were expected to overtake the Senate, they thus far have come up two seats short, and Democrats only chance of regaining control of the Senate prior to 2022 involves winning both Georgia senate runoff elections that take place at the beginning of January. A superb undertaking by the Lincoln Project indeed.

And alas, much of these $67 million dollars was thus set on fire. And the remaining money will almost surely be sent ablaze in the future. Because you see, the Lincoln Project is now reportedly starting a new media organization whose sole purpose is likely to pull Joe Biden and the rest of our Establishment Democratic heroes to enact the same conservative policies that the Lincoln Project’s founding members have always favored. I am almost certain that this is something that many well-meaning liberals who donated to the Lincoln Project are gleefully celebrating. Some might be tempted to call the people behind Lincoln Project absolute grifters who actively fleeced people in plain sight. But in our Establishment Campaign Economy, they are considered true shining knights of the highest order.

Our final tale for today of money being thrown into flames involves a well-known villain of the establishment of both parties, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The villainous Ocasio-Cortez had the gall in 2018 to throw all three cornerstones of the esteemed Establishment Campaign Economy out the window by ousting the number 4 ranked Democrat Joe Crowley while spending one-tenth of what he did. And she did so by running on things that an ACTUAL median Democratic voter in her district would want. For her misgivings two years prior, she was given a primary challenger: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. While also being a Hispanic woman with a hyphenated last name, she also was a former CNBC anchor who was a registered Republican until a couple of years ago. The exact type of person I’m sure that her district was absolutely clamoring for. Well not really, as AOC triumphed against MCC by a margin of 74.4%-18.1%. But not before Caruso-Cabrera was able to raise $2.8 million dollars, much of which came from people, who, as you probably guessed, have far more money than you will ever have.

But this was not Ocasio-Cortez’s only foe in this election cycle. For you see, she then had to run against a Republican in the general election. Granted, AOC’s district is bluer than the hottest of flames of our cash-burning inferno. But that did not stop her Republican challenger from raising around $10 million in a 68.7% to 30.3% losing effort. Now, some of this money did come from Republicans who have normal incomes. However, this likely had less to do with support for the Republican challenger himself and more to do with Ocasio-Cortez being the new boogey-woman of the left, as portrayed by right wing media. In fact, the challenger’s name was probably as irrelevant to them as it is to you. You probably didn’t even realize that I haven’t even mentioned his name yet until now: Jon Cummings.

If you found these tales riveting, I hope you will in future join me again around the campfire for future epic tales. For as you see, tales from this faraway land are in anything but short supply. Many of the fanciful tales from this election cycle are still being written as we speak. This is in part due to the scribes of the Federal Election Commission having yet to publish and collect final campaign finance data. It is also due to the results of the election coming in slower than a morphine drip, one that many of us are likely begging for ourselves as we contemplate the next few months of American politics.

Brian Flaxman: Campfire Tales of Courageous Heroes Setting Millions of Campaign Funds Ablaze; Chapter The First

Brian Flaxman

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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