Money is powerful but – as the old saying reminds us – it can’t buy happiness. And apparently it doesn’t necessarily buy elections either.
Of course, you can’t win an election – even a local election – without the cash to put up signs and keep your campaign office open. But the hysteria provoked by the Supreme Court’s ruling notwithstanding, America’s political players are finding out that deep pockets don’t guarantee victory.
Ask Sheldon Adelson. He poured 50 million dollars (or was it a hundred million?) into the 2012 election and is pouring who knows how many millions more into this campaign. So far, the horses he backed have won nothing.
Ask the Koch brothers. Their flunky Scott Walker lasted about five seconds in the current Republican primary.
Ask Carly Fiorina. She dumped millions from her golden parachute challenging Barbara Boxer for a California seat in the US Senate. Her campaign was a flop.
Ask Jeb Bush. His supporters have spent $50 million or more on his campaign, and where is he in the polls? In single digits, that’s where.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the billionaire braggart, has hardly dipped into his fortune to fuel his run for president. His advertising spending has been zero, yet he is polling way ahead of the primary pack.
Yes, Trump gets a lot of free publicity, but that’s because he knows how to manipulate the media. And nobody is arguing that free TV doesn’t produce results.
It’s the paid TV that’s in question.
TV ads are expected to cost around $4.4 billion in this election – up from $3.8 billion in 2012. But political strategists are beginning to wonder about their impact.
They certainly didn’t work for Jeb. His campaign recently pulled his TV ads from the Iowa airwaves. I suppose they’ll channel their money into such old-fashioned techniques as phone calls and knocking on doors.
But, obviously, the message still matters more than the medium.
And that’s what Bernie Sanders seems to have. The blizzard of dollars flooding his office are not just vital fuel for his campaign, they’re evidence of something more important – potential votes.
Those individual supporters showering him with their contributions have an investment in the race. They’re not likely to sit this one out.