Another day, another series of reasons to bury the rag deep in your face when it comes to American campaign finance.
Here’s some shocking news: it turns out Mitt Romney is really, really good at dealing with really, really rich people! Who could ever have guessed that a private equity savant, a guy who made his millions by convincing various other people and entities with millions to let him borrow a few and bring back many more, would find himself so well-suited to hobnobbing with the .01 percent? It’s all the more impressive when you realize what, exactly, Romney’s got to say to these folks; he’s got to somehow convince them that they’d like to see their taxes lowered, government oversight over their businesses lax, and a guy in the Oval Office more than willing to take their call.
Yes, the man could sell fire in Hell.
According to the New York Times, Romney’s secret isn’t simply that he’s enthusiastically telling these donors what they want to hear. More important, and in stark contrast to the President, Romney is a talented coddler. He skillfully convinces those whose funds he desperately needs — to a degree that he’d withstand nearly any social interaction, however dull, awkward, or unpleasant it may be — that he considers them little less than family. The top-to-bottom of the entire relationship may be constructed with insincerity, exploitation, self-aware alienation, and false promises; but when Romney grabs your hand and, for reasons unclear, offers his congratulations, you know the true meaning of understanding. Orsomething:
It is the attention from Mr. Romney, however, that has left the deepest impression on donors, who said they felt like extended members of the family, much in the way Mr. Bush embraced contributors. Mr. Bush became famed for immersing donors in his Texas life during retreats in Austin and following up with handwritten thank yous.
“This is the Bush operation on steroids,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier who has raised more than $1 million for Mr. Romney.
Mr. Scaramucci said he relished his time at Mr. Romney’s house in New Hampshire, where the candidate gave a slide show about campaign strategy and spoke with guests on a deck overlooking the lake. “People love being able to say they went to Romney’s house,” Mr. Scaramucci said. “It’s an attractive magnetron for the campaign.”
The campaign has organized much of its outreach around issues that energize contributors, like Israel. In May, it held a daylong series of policy discussions with donors at Mr. Romney’s headquarters in Boston, ending with an appearance by the candidate himself.
Philip Rosen, a Romney donor active in Jewish causes, said the presence of the candidate “shows he cares personally, which is something we know, but it’s important to see. For those who did not have a personal relationship with him, it’s essential.”
Romney knows these people. He is these people. And while he’s generally maladroit when it comes to mingling with the 99 percent, I’d imagine that his rumored humor, charm, and gregariousness comes shining through when he’s immersed in a socioeconomic sphere he’s been accustomed to since his early childhood. He understands that a driving need of the extremely successful — perhaps the trait that made the super successful who they are, assuming their wealth is not inherited — is constant, lavish validation. It’s a quirk Mitt and company are quite willing to use to their advantage:
The campaign has been criticized for tying donations of $50,000 or more to guest packages for the Republican National Convention.
Mr. Johnson, the Jets owner, played down the issue.
“I don’t have the feeling at all that any of this gets you any special access to anything untoward,” he said.
Mr. Romney has bolstered outreach to smaller donors, online and through lotteries to have lunch with him and his wife. But such donors will not be invited to Utah this weekend, where Mr. Rove and Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, will host a panel on the news media’s role in presidential politics, and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the government’s impact on the economy.
Ray Washburne, a Romney fund-raiser attending the retreat, said the campaign had proved deft at “making donors feel like they are inside players.”
“We feel very appreciated,” he said.
Tim Tebow’s new boss might want to talk a bit with Team Romney, because if he doesn’t feel like he’s being given “special access” then the message isn’t quite getting through. After all, the whole point of being an “inside player” is the fact that there are other, “outside” players, too. Let’s hope Mr. Johnson isn’t usually this willing to fork over $50+ thousand without expecting anything in return (the Mark Sanchez experiment notwithstanding). But maybe Johnson is just an avid court-watcher; it was Justice Kennedy, after all, who assured us that opening the doors for campaign spending would create neither corruption nor even the appearance of it.
And speaking of Citizen United‘s boosters, I found (via Yglesias) this treat of a blog post from a Cato feller arguing that the ruling remains wise and correct. More than that, this Mr. Roger Pilon also goes on to claim that not only is unregulated campaign finance a positive good, but public financing (a means through which states or the federal government could guarantee a minimum level of funding for a candidate, ideally ensuring that no one would choose not to run due to fears of being utterly swamped with opposition spending) is real evil. As Yglesias snarked, Pilon’s argument seems to be that public financing would lead to voters getting what they wanted. Quelle horreur!
Given Obama’s power to pander to special interests, it’s a good thing that Romney’s raising more money than Obama. Yet if zealots for campaign finance “reform” had had their way — and the Supreme Court hadn’t stood up for the First Amendment — both candidates might well today be receiving equal “public” funding for their campaigns. All of which illustrates, once again, that “reform” is not about preventing corruption but about incumbency protection.
Student loans, gay marriage, the DREAM Act, countless middle-class “entitlements” — how’s a challenger going to be able to compete against an incumbent who can dole out such favors right up to the election unless he’s able to raise more money than the incumbent and get his message out, including criticisms about such rank, election-year pandering? The implication that Romney’s cash may speak louder than Obama’s record and “buy” the election for him thus misses the point. What more cash buys is more speech, which challengers need if they’re going to be able to compete against the inherent, and often abused, power of incumbents.
An implicit assumption of Pilon’s argument is that the people funding Romney are notdenizens of the power structure Obama supposedly abuses to his advantage. Yet anyone who’s paying a lick of attention to this election, and who also has a lick of sense, could tell you that Romney’s money is coming overwhelmingly from a relatively small group of people witha lot of money — and they tend to make their living, one way or another, from Wall Street.
Establishing a dichotomy with Obama, debt-ridden students, under-30 undocumented immigrants, and people who need Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to survive on the one side; and Wall Street mavens as well as corporate billionaires on the other is one thing (reductionist). But to do so and then claim that it’s the former coalition that holds all the power? Such powers of delusion are impressive, certainly, but they’re also elucidating —this is how crazy you have to be to still defend Citizens United. It’s a high bar. In this regard, however, American politics is nothing if not abundant with overachievers.