Let me see if I recall middle school math: 2 x 2 = 4, 2 x 2 x 2 = 8, 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16, etc. These were called “powers of” or “exponents”, which if I understood computers better I could probably figure out how to type (e.g. 2 with a little 2, 3, or 4 to the right). This presidential election round, one party (really does not matter which for this blog) seems to be using exponential math to fills its line-up of primary candidates.
In order to have a “race”, you need at least 2 candidates. To make the race more interesting, toss in 2 more, for 4 candidates. When the party lacks cohesion, another 4 jump into the race of 8 candidates, trying to unseat the front-runners while peddling their litmus test agenda. When the field doubles again, to 16 (or more), there must be something appealing to these candidates other than the election.
My cynicism questions why 15 (or more) candidates would set out to lose their shirts. I asked a well-read friend this question. His reply: “They are positioning themselves for future influence.”
Here is the logic, based on follow-the-money theory * . Candidates gather campaign fund “war chests”, which they may spend on the election. If they win, or if they lose, they continue to control those funds. Laws restrict use of these funds for personal use (i.e. no second homes, international vacations, speed boats, or jewelry for their… spouses). But, what the law allows, directly or indirectly, is where the influences comes into play.
Obviously, these funds can be the seed money for future election campaigns. But, even retiring politicians (who want to spend more time with their families) continue to control these funds. The next direct political influence they can draw upon is contributing to other politicians’ campaigns. While each contribution is limited to a few thousand dollars, if the politician has $100k or $100m, that is a lot of hand-shakes with nods about what promises the candidate should make and keep.
Where the real money is though is Political Action Committees, especially those with the title “Super” as a prefix. While a few thousand dollars might be a direct connection with a fellows party member, the PAC money is unlimited and anonymous. Have you noticed how many PAC’s pop up after campaigns, formed by elected and defeated candidates? Have you also noticed how many of those former officials or candidates get appointed as the director of those same PAC’s?
While they still cannot remodel their kitchens and bathrooms with the funds, they now have much more say in how it is spent (including travel to conventions, meetings, speaking engagements, etc.). Rather than a few thousand at a time, they have tens to hundreds of thousands to spend on general position advertising, supports or opposing candidates, funding think-tanks and universities to research pet topics (always supporting the predetermined results) and to publish those results as independent agencies…. All of that buys a lot of influence.
If you dreaded how the last round of campaign and PAC funds influenced the elections, expect an exponential increase in your dread. In the first round of fund-raising, one candidate raised more around $10 million for his campaign, while his SuperPAC (oh, not actually his, but that which supports his positions) raised 10 times that amount. Moreover, that $100+ million in SuperPAC funds is more than all of the presidential SuperPACs raised during the whole presidential election cycle last time. And, we are not even into the first debate. Where will they put those 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 (or more) candidates on a debate stage?
* After composing these ideas, I heard a commentary on Public Radio International’s Market Place program. Their spin on the money angle is that candidates run in order to get more notoriety for their “brand”. The presidential election spotlight can bring in future speaking circuit deals with the former candidate’s fees jumping from 4- to 5-figures. Or, their local radio show might be nationally broadcast, thus generating higher revenue. Or, a TV news network might pay them 6-figures to “analyze” the news once or twice per week. While increasing one’s income stream may be part of the motivation, setting the agenda continues to be a primary motivation.