I’ll be the first one to admit it, I can’t wait for the Democratic 2020 primaries to begin in earnest. While it will be a huge starting day lineup, unlike the day care frat party of the GOP in 2016, this field will host an incredible diversity, not only in gender and race, but in ideas and solutions as well. But there’s one facet of the upcoming battle that isn’t really getting much attention, and it intrigues me enough that I’m going to be keeping a close eye on it.
The Democrats didn’t have that monumental blue wave in 2018 because the DNC and the DCCC raised a gazillion dollars and blanketed the airwaves and front yards with advertising. They won because fresh, largely non traditional political candidates presented fresh ideas, did the shoe leather work to promote it, and gained enough grassroots and small donation support to carry the day. In quite a few races these upstart candidates embarrassed the DCCC by winning against party endorsed mainstream candidates. To do that, they needed money, and they raised it.
This lesson was not lost on the DCCC or the larger DNC. In fact it was a welcome development for the larger party, since candidates that were able to raise sufficient donations to get by on their own needed less support from the DCCC’s donation base, those funds could instead be spent on other competitive campaigns that needed help.This was highlighted by the many races in which these upstart Democratic candidates out raised their “entrenched” GOP incumbents by 2-3 to 1.
This ability to be able to not only survive, but thrive on grassroots activism and small money donations was a source of pride for not only the candidates, but the DNC as well. To the point that the DNC has laid a marker in the 2020 primary campaign, by making small money donations a requisite marker for gaining a spot on the stage for Democratic primary debates. This is not just a good thing, it is a necessary thing, since if the Democrats are going to talk the talk about getting dark money out of politics, they had better damn well be ready to walk the walk, especially since they’ve already proven that it can be done successfully on a wide scale.
This is going to pose an interesting dynamic to the 2020 Democratic race. As with any large field, it is going to include some, what would normally be called, “fringe” candidates. But in the age of burgeoning social media, a candidate can ride a position on a “hot” issue to a swell of sudden small money donations. Those donations will then put that candidate on a nationally televised debate stage, where he can make his or her case, and possibly lead to even more donations and popularity. As we saw in 2018, this can be a self repeating cycle. This dynamic is likely going to allow some what would normally be called “second tier candidates” to stick around long after their “shelf life” would have expired in a normal campaign.
But there is a yang to this yin. It is going to make all candidates, especially those more “traditional” established candidates, carefully watch their fund raising mix. Yesterday, on the very day that Corey Booker officially joined the race, it was bantered about on MSNBC that one of the potential problems that Booker aces is the perception of his coziness with Wall Street and other large corporate donors. No candidate is going to want to face being put in the position of having filings that show them with just enough small donor money to qualify for a spot on the debate stage, but a corporate donor war chest the size of the gross domestic product of Germany. It is going to be intriguing for me to watch these candidates try to juggle and balance their donations to allow them to compete effectively, yet still maintain enough small dollar integrity to maintain grassroots enthusiasm.
And as we saw in 2018, there is a definite upside to this image of small money independence. In the Age of Trump, when he, his children, and his administration are doing their best impersonation of The Sack Of Rome on the country, and the only thing that is not for sale in the GOP is, rell, nothing really, people have already proven that they have had enough of “politics as usual.” When you’re Trump, in this climate of political revolt, and you’re facing a candidate with a literal army of “repeating $48 donations,” and after Shelly Adelson and the Koch brothers, your small donor list couldn’t fill a half a page, single spaced, you just might have a teeny-weeny messaging problem on your hands. And your little dog, too!
So yes, I can’t wait for the thoughtful, spirited,and long battle of wits and ideas that will be the 2020
Democratic primaries. But for the first time in my life, I honestly wish that I had a degree in accounting, because really, watching these folks try to balance their campaign checkbooks is going to be fascinating.
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