In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.
This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.
The Times quotes Soros as believing he and others on the left can’t compete with conservatives when it comes to campaign ads so they’d rather not try. While this is good news for Republicans, it also makes absolutely no sense. Despite liberal myths about corporations lining up for the GOP, the experience of the last two decades shows us there is no shortage of liberal wealth to be spent on political causes. Soros and his friends have the ability to match conservatives dollar for dollar if they want to. But whether it is out of a misguided belief in an indefensible principle or just plain stubbornness, they won’t do it. The result is that for all of the talk of President Obama’s enormous fundraising advantage this year, the refusal of liberals like Soros to step up in a constructive manner may severely handicap the Democrats this fall.
As the Times explained a day earlier in a separate story, Soros and his cohorts are ideologically predisposed to fund what they call “infrastructure” groups that are more concerned with turnout than influencing public opinion. They think it is cheaper and more effective to work on mobilizing minority or youth voters rather than fighting for independents. As Karl Rove proved in 2004 when he helped turnout evangelicals and other conservatives for George W. Bush, ensuring that your base votes is critical to victory. But if the Democratic Party is already spending heavily on this sector, having their big givers create redundant organizations won’t help Obama. Nor can it manufacture the same kind of surge on the part of those demographic sectors that took place in 2008. The push to re-elect a president who has not fulfilled their hopes and for whom the historic imperative to put an African American in the White House no longer exists means they cannot duplicate the enthusiasm of four years ago.
Democratic Party leaders are right to be dismayed at this lack of teamwork on the part of their leftist financial partners. But they shouldn’t be surprised. People like Soros have always been more interested in ideology than electoral politics. They want to build a powerful left, not fight for the center of the American public square. They may be driven in part by hatred of conservatives, but expecting them to play ball in order to re-elect the president may be asking too much of them.