The race for 2016 is on, and so far Team Hillary is the fastest horse out of the gate with a 'D' on its saddle. More accurately, it's the only horse, and it's going to have at least a couple billion dollars riding on it.
But as any drunken loon at the racetrack would tell you, gambling is a fool's game. Democrats are putting everything in a bet they can't afford to lose, on a horse that hasn't decided quite how strongly it feels about campaign finance reform. (Horse metaphor over.)
The Daily Beast's David Freelander reports on just how much dough Clinton is looking to raise this week alone:
From then on, Ready for Hillary will encourage its 3.6 million supporters to give to Clinton’s real campaign while the super PAC quietly dissolves.
Ready for Hillary has raised close to $15 million from nearly 150,000 donors, and Clintonistas believe that those same donors alone could give as much as 10 times that amount to a Clinton campaign.
Ok, but that early rush doesn't seem to be materializing. So far, Clinton seems to be pursuing a relatively modest primary war chest rather than going gangbusters in the first week, focusing on small donors first and saving the rest for later. But The New Republic's Brian Beutler suggests that the fact that Clinton announced much earlier than her originally planned date of July means that her advisers convinced her she needs a few additional months of fundraising more than she needed to avoid appearing like she was throwing her own coronation.
Whatever the case, Clinton should do well enough in the next few weeks to dissuade all but the most defiant Democratic primary challengers. Political media has been speculating that this strong early focus on fundraising is entirely dedicated to reaching this end for months.
Progressives should be glad that Team Hillary has apparently reached the conclusion that a first-week money bomb would be ill-advised and give right-wingers the ammo to paint her as an out-of-touch plutocrat. Because that is exactly what it would do. Either way, there is still ample room to be concerned.
For one, Clinton is still planning on raising a lot of money -- almost two and a half times what Obama raised in 2012, TheNew York Times reports:
This campaign will begin on a small scale and build up to an effort likely to cost more than any presidential bid waged before, with Mrs. Clinton's supporters and outside "super PACs" looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion in a blitz of donations from Democrats who overwhelmingly support her candidacy.
To a Clinton supporter this probably seems pretty good -- a plan to amp up the Democratic advantage with big money while avoiding looking like a sell-out. Unfortunately, the $2.5 billion price tag is probably plausible and downplaying the role large donors will have on her campaign will only obscure the fact that the large donors are there, they are heavily invested in Hillary, and they are going to pour the kind of money into the electoral process that until a few years ago was quite literally illegal. Clinton can also wait to raise money for the general election because she has cozy super PAC allies seeking "six- and seven-figure checks" to support her.
The supposedly modest beginnings of this campaign are artificial.
Certainly the Republicans are doing the same thing on a much worse scale. Jeb Bush is stacking gold bars so quickly he's asking people to lay off the $1 million checks for a while. Ted Cruz has $31 million. If this were a nuclear arms race, we'd be getting dangerously close to mutually assured destruction. Liberals simply can't sustain this level of campaign spending, but Republicans can.
Clinton appears to understand this, as she said soon after the announcement that she'd back a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform if it proved necessary. As the primary beneficiary of this process, unfortunately, I do not see a President Clinton who just raised $2.5 billion actually making this a priority. Nor will I stop being suspicious of the sudden stylistic swing left that began on Sunday until we see some actual policy proposals. Clinton can't just talk about taking unaccountable money out of our campaign system. It should be one of her biggest priorities.
To be clear, Hillary isn't to blame for this situation. She's just playing the game. But let's not pretend that we can overlook the implications of a $2.5 billion price tag for the presidency just because our side is likely to win. Democrats have largely accepted the myth of Clinton's inevitability because of the effects Citizens United had on our elections. If Clinton didn't enjoy such an overwhelming fundraising advantage, then we might have seen a Warren or Sanders campaign emerge as a credible second choice. Now we're stuck with a firmly establishment candidate who has yet to articulate a clear vision for the presidency at a time when we need a real progressive, and few other options if she implodes.
Let's hope it's a good bet.