A while back on Twitter, Ross Douthat wrote “Social cons gave GOP Todd Akin. Elite donors gave GOP “47 percent.” Both hurt, but latter hurt a lot more.” I’m not going to disagree with Douthat. Romney was more important than Akin and “47%” sentiment was more prevalent on the right than musings about “legitimate rape.” It wasn’t a coincidence that Romney was caught making his 47% cracks to a wealthy donor audience in a format closed to the press. But I would want to complicate this view of the donors. News reports from a while back indicated that lots of Republican donors were hoping for Mitch Daniels to enter the race. This was the same Mitch Daniels who, in response to Obama’s 2012 State Of The Union speech, said:
Those punished most by the wrong turns of the last three years are those unemployed or underemployed tonight and those so discouraged they’ve abandoned the search for work altogether. And no one’s been more tragically harmed than the young people of this country, the first generation in memory to face a future less promising than their parents did.
As Republicans, our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots. We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.
Are the donors represented by Daniels, or the guy who showed such contempt for the 47% of Americans who had no net federal income tax liability and who made it clear there was nothing in his tax plan to appeal to them? I think the answer is yes but… There are probably donors who share Romney’s expressed contempt for, and lack of interest in the 47% as other than a mindless force of economic predation. There are probably lots of donors who believe that a combination of education and health care policy reforms combined with a growing economy and an effective, affordable, and limited government are the best thing that could happen to the middle-class and those that aspire to the middle-class.
The dynamics of the 2012 presidential race worked out that even most donors in the second group ended up supporting Romney. Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal didn’t run. It turned out that Rick Perry didn’t do the work on national issues and opinion dynamics to be a viable candidate. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were utterly irresponsible figures who were running thinly disguised commercial ventures rather than presidential campaign. Santorum lacked the organizational skills and rhetorical discipline to win a presidential campaign. That left Romney. That is not to excuse the (probably significant) fraction of Republican donors who did buy into some version of the 47% argument. I’m just saying it isn’t clear that they are a plurality of the donors. There was money there for something better.
I feel like I’ve been way to easy on Republican donors this week so I’ll close with a criticism. Conservative Republican donors have recently done a lousy job of using their money to influence election outcomes. They’ve spent way too much money on redundant 30 second election year ads that are completely unpersuasive and may actually be incomprehensible to much of the electorate. They would have been better off if they had invested researching and testing methods for reaching younger and nonwhite voters who hardly ever hear a right-leaning idea sympathetically expressed. They would have been better off focusing more on ideas for policy family-friendly tax reform and replacements for Obamacare. Their messaging should be aligning more with Yuval Levin than Karl Rove. And they should be spending more of their money between elections so that when a Republican starts talking a middle-class agenda, the public already has some idea of what he (or she) is talking about.