How To Solve The RNC’s Debate Problem: Money

Bill Scher

Over at Real Clear Politics, I offered the Republican Party advice it will not take: Cull the number of presidential candidates you put on the debate stage by how much money they raised.

Republican National Committee leaders are struggling with how to limit the size of the debate stage because if they only use polls, they risk disqualifying most of their non-white male candidates. Beyond their sudden interest in affirmative action, polling at this early stage is a flawed measure because it gauges little but name recognition among voters who aren’t yet paying close attention.

But before the votes are cast, money is what every candidate is chasing and what every candidate’s staff is touting as proof of their campaign’s success. Reporters, and voters, watch the money tallies to see which candidate is proving to be viable. Why not embrace reality?

Alas, Republicans won’t take the advice because of how it would look. But the advice comports with what they claim to believe: More money in politics simply means “more political speech … pure political speech of the sort that the First Amendment most indisputably protects.”

By that logic, elevating the best fundraisers is not unfairly treating the back of the pack; it is rewarding those doing the best job at generating political speech.

When it comes to elections against Democrats, Republicans shrug off the idea that more money for one side means an unfair election. So why should they worry about charges of unfairness when it involves fellow Republicans?

If they mean what they say about money in politics, they wouldn’t worry. If they quietly know deep down that wide discrepancies in war chests can skew the democratic process, they would.

The biggest irony about the Citizens United ruling so cherished by Republicans is that so far it has failed to give them a fundraising advantage. I’ve gone even further to argue that it has backfired on the Republican Party’s leadership as it allowed an oligarchy of billionaire funders to siphon off a good deal of its power.

Where money may actually make a big difference is in the Republican primary, possibly giving a candidate like Jeb Bush an overwhelming advantage despite being widely disliked within the conservative base.

The RNC may not take my advice. But it also can’t run away from how money is going to shape its primary. Don’t be surprised if, after Jeb or some other insufficiently conservative candidate clinches the nomination, conservatives become suddenly interested in campaign finance reform.

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