Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Back in January, James Carville vented to Vox about how exasperated he was by small-donor liberals and what I’d call their “hate-donate” strategy in elections. Which is really the opposite of a strategy: Instead of carefully assessing which races are realistically winnable and which aren’t and allocating their scarce dollars accordingly, many Dem donors simply shower cash on whoever happens to be running against the Republicans they hate the most. Mitch McConnell’s Democratic opponent? Big money. Lindsey Graham’s Democratic opponent? Big, big money.
They both got blown out.
I don’t know who Ted Cruz’s opponent in Texas will be in 2024 but I can guarantee now that he or she will either set the record for most money raised by a Senate campaign or come close.
Carville was cross-eyed with rage about it:
Just look at how Democrats organize and spend money. For Christ’s sake, [South Carolina Democrat] Jaime Harrison raised over $100 million only to lose his Senate race to Lindsey Graham by 10 points. Amy McGrath runs for Senate in Kentucky and raises over $90 million only to get crushed by Mitch McConnell.
They were always going to lose those races, but Democrats keep doing this stupid sh*t. They’re too damn emotional. Democrats obsess over high-profile races they can’t win because that’s where all the attention is. We’re addicted to hopeless causes.
I don’t think it’s that they’re addicted to hopeless causes, I think it’s that a meaningful segment are motivated by negative partisanship and are making impulse donations via ActBlue whenever some Republican they detest says or does something to piss them off. Every time Marjorie Taylor Greene, say, shows her mug on TV somewhere and a clip goes viral of her questioning the vaccines or calling for Biden’s impeachment, there’s a certain kind of liberal who’ll reflexively punch the “donate” button for her opponent. Which, strategically, is insane, as there’s no way her blood-red district is going to elect a Democrat. But these donors don’t care, I suspect; they’re getting a dopamine hit from sticking it to Greene financially. And meanwhile the GOP’s laughing all the way to Election Day, knowing that those dollars could have made a difference in a tight race somewhere else.
Greene is one of the most prolific fundraises in the House thanks to her populist following but she actually got outraised by her no-shot Democratic opponent in the first quarter thanks to the hate-donaters. Democratic Party leaders are mortified, knowing the opportunity cost of those donations. History is repeating:
To date, [Marcus] Flowers, despite having no previous political experience, has raised more than $7 million, including a whopping $2.4 million in the first three months of the year. His haul for the cycle is far more than many well-established incumbents, including Greene, who he has outraised for multiple quarters…
“We get so caught up on the super villains that we don’t focus on the villains,” said Lauren Harper, the co-founder of Welcome PAC, a group that has tracked this pattern and works to expand the reach of the Democratic Party…
“I certainly get the instinct to give to the opponent of a Republican bogeyman or bogeywoman. It is just not a strategic contribution,” said [Jessica] Post, referring to McGrath’s haul as “infamous.”…
“The Kentucky [McConnell/McGrath] race alone probably saved at least two Senate races” for Republicans in 2020, Josh Holmes, a top adviser to McConnell, said of Democrats’ inability to win control of the Senate before the Georgia runoffs in January 2021. “Misdirected funds on the Democratic side down the stretch definitely contributed to them coming up short.”
Beto O’Rourke was such a fundraising phenomenon in 2018, when he challenged Cruz for Senate in Texas, that it convinced him he had the right stuff to contend for the presidency in 2020. He jumped in, went nowhere, and is now on track to be swamped by Greg Abbott in this year’s gubernatorial race. Because in the end, it wasn’t really Beto who raised the Beto money in 2018. It was Cruz, thanks to Democratic donors’ intense hatred of him.
The same thing’s happening right now in Florida, as Democrat Val Demings just raked in $10 million in the first quarter for her challenge to Marco Rubio. She’ll end up losing by upwards of 10 points, I’d guess, but her donors don’t care. They hate Rubio for having transformed into a Trump lickspittle and have found a way to communicate their contempt for him. That’s money well-spent if your goal is getting that dopamine rush rather than maximizing your party’s chances of holding power.
How do Democratic leaders fix this problem of burning cash on no-shots? It’s a tricky one since no one in the party wants to walk out to a mic and say, “Marcus Flowers and Val Demings have no chance of winning.” They’d be accused of tanking those candidates’ campaigns if they did. If anything’s to be done here, it’ll probably have to happen through ActBlue. They could put “probability of victory” metrics via FiveThirtyEight or whoever on each candidate’s donation page (although of course the longshot candidates won’t like that). And/or they could have a section on each donation page listing the races where a donated dollar is most likely to tip the balance of victory or control of the House or whatever.
They could also try to steer Democratic donors towards lower-profile races with an outsized impact on the country. “What about the secretary of state in Wisconsin? Or the attorney general race in Michigan? How much money are Democrats and progressives around the country sending to those candidates?” said Carville to Vox. He’s right — the state AG and secretary of state races this year will decide which party controls those offices in the weeks after the 2024 election. Trump is trying to get his “stop the steal” cronies elected to a number of those positions in the expectation that they’ll overturn the election for him next time should he need a little official help at the state level. But instead of funneling cash to those campaigns, Democrats are hate-donating to Flowers. Pure insanity, so much so that I wonder if Kevin McCarthy is quietly happy to have Greene around. Populist lightning rods like her are basically heat sinks for Democratic cash, drawing away liberal energy that would otherwise cook Republican candidates in tighter districts.
And you want to know the punchline? If Dems really do want to beat Greene, they have an option in her district. Just not the one they think.
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) April 18, 2022
Jennifer Strahan, Greene’s most plausible Republican primary challenger, had raised a measly $109,000 as of the end of last year. Meanwhile Flowers can light his cigars with $100 bills. His dumb party deserves to lose.