by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In the short term, it may be good for the Republicans that the Democrats are so prone to adopting radical and radically unpopular positions. But in the long run, if we are ever to get our politics back to where we’d like, we need to get a handle on these insane nomination processes, on both sides.
Over the past quarter century, the Democrats have undergone a wholesale revolution in campaign finance. Whereas Democratic campaigns were once funded by labor unions, New Left public-interest groups, and corporations friendly to left-wing causes, candidates are relying more and more on small donors.
This has been a boon for the party’s coffers, as Democrats have been able to raise eye-popping totals from the socioeconomically upscale portion of their base, more than they ever could accumulate through the old channels. It has also freed the party from the stigma of being in hock to labor unions or other interest groups, which often harmed Democrats’ ability to compete in places where unions are not especially strong.
But the new role of small donors has also shifted the incentives of primary-campaign candidates, in ways that were on display this week. If your goal as a candidate is to maximize your haul from small-dollar donors who are not affiliated with a professional interest group, then you’re basically chasing the Rachel Maddow Show crowd — hyper-engaged, public-spirited progressives. They do not constitute a majority of the party, or of the country. But a lot of them have Act Blue bookmarked on Google Chrome.
The campaign rules established by the party this year — whereby candidates have to secure a certain number of donors and a certain percentage of support in the major polls — reinforce the influence of these donors.