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Saturday, May 12, 2012

‘Money Primary’

Jonah Goldberg
His fundraising campaign pushes Obama to the left.

For most of 2012, President Obama has been running in the Democratic primary. I know that seems odd, given that he’s essentially running unopposed — though don’t tell that to West Virginia Democrats, who cast nearly half of their votes for Keith Judd, an inmate currently serving time in a Texarkana, Texas, prison. Judd received 41 percent of the vote; in 1968, Eugene McCarthy received 42 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and forced incumbent Lyndon Johnson from the race.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s important to remember that primaries serve other functions than just picking the nominee. Primaries force party bosses, activists, and strategists to test their messaging, update their databases, and, most especially, get the party’s fundraising apparatus going.

During the real Republican primary, all of that stuff was going on behind the curtain while everyone was busy watching the actual contest. The Republicans didn’t need to fake anything in order to switch on the party machinery. They had a primary season that made a wacky Mexican soap opera seem like Masterpiece Theatre by comparison. Republicans, for good and ill, were paying a lot of attention. And so was the press corps. There were enough GOP debates alone to program a new cable network.

Meanwhile, Obama was politically sidelined. Sure, he got attention; presidents always do. But the rank and file wasn’t engaging in the contest enough.

Nearly everything we’ve seen from Obama in the last five months has been an attempt to re-create the institutional benefits of a primary season without having an actual opponent.

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