After the 2012 presidential election, Republican donors were left scratching their heads, thinking: how could we spend all that money and fall so short?
Two years later, it is the left asking such questions, as evidenced by this article in the Washington Post. And, as it stands, the leaders of the super PACs have some … peculiar answers. Democrats spent millions attacking the Koch brothers, and they only won one of the ten Senate races thought to be closest. So the obvious answer is to spend more running against the Kochs:
The answer, some party strategists think, is not to abandon the anti-Koch message but to amplify it.
“The way I view it is that we were just getting started,” said David Brock, founder of American Bridge, the independent pro-Democratic research operation.
Brock’s group plans to dig even deeper into the Kochs as part of an effort to tie them to the incoming class of congressional Republicans, a theme it will then carry into the 2016 presidential race.
“The Kochs themselves were put on the defensive for the first time, and a number of their candidates were put on the defensive when these issues were raised,” he said. “To me, that’s a sign that we’re on to something.”
How is that a sign of anything? If a party spends tens of millions on a single line of attack, won’t the other party have to defend its position in some way? It seems to me like the real sign would be that the opposition could not defend itself.
Also, this made me laugh out loud:
One of the most high-profile efforts was Mayday PAC, a super PAC started by Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig that spent more than $10 million going after candidates opposed to measures that would lessen the impact of wealthy donors.
In the end, the group could not point to a race in which it turned an election. But Lessig maintains it still had influence, noting that Mayday’s late campaign against Rep. Fred Upton forced the powerful Michigan Republican to plow millions into what most expected was going to be an easy reelection.
Fred Upton won reelection by 15 points.
My guess is that this is all “CYA” after an abysmal showing. These super PACs have frustrated donors to whom they must now answer, and obviously they have to point to some sort of good news.
Moreover, the only reason Democrats ran on the Koch Brothers, the minimum wage, or birth control was because no other issues were working for them this cycle. And this is where polling can give a false impression. Yes, when Democratic pollsters query voters about these issues, they invariably get good results for their party, but these issues were of extremely low salience. In other words, voters might agree with Democrats about Citizens United, but they do not much care.
Mark Udall’s campaign pretty clearly made this mistake. His team must have seen good polling numbers on “the war on women” meme, and decided: “Aha! We can run on this issue!” But they did not appreciate that Colorado voters were not really interested in it, and ultimately faced blow-back.
In time, the issue matrix will evolve, and Democrats will have more relevant issues to push than the minimum wage and birth control.
But not today. Today, they have to justify all the millions that they spent losing massively to Republicans, so they’ll stick with a story about how an attack against the Koch brothers forced Fred Upton to spend a little bit more to win comfortably.