Odds remain strong that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination for the presidency. That means Democrats have to hope the Republicans make one of their customary mistakes and nominate someone even less likable or more scary than she is.
The thing is, candidates matter more than party. The country leans increasingly Democratic, but to take advantage of that fact, Democrats have to offer candidates who are able to claw their way up through the system and make their own appeal clear through primary battles. Clinton came close, but ultimately failed at that process 8 years ago. This time, she doesn’t have to bother.
Oh, she has opponents, but none of them has the political skills of Barack Obama. Remember when she ran the ad asking which one you’d rather have answer that chilling phone call at 3 a.m.? Remember saying to yourself, Ah, the cool dude? There’s no one like Obama in this race. The people who could seriously challenge her for the nomination — the ones who almost certainly could beat her — are not in the race and are not going to get in. To understand why, it is necessary to understand just a bit of history.
Parties are peculiar private organizations, organized chiefly for the purpose of selecting candidates for public office. They were not anticipated at the time the Constitution was adopted — in fact, many of the Founders regarded them as anathema — and so the Constitution never mentions them and contains no instructions on the selection of candidates.
Over the years since 1796, when John Adams and his Federalists vied with Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans for the presidency, the nomination process has see-sawed between a broad, open, democratic exercise and a closed, secretive one dominated by party bosses. Historically, primaries have been relatively open, caucuses closed and conventions, either way. That’s all topsy-turvy now because of the enduring wild card in American politics, which is money.
Current rules and procedures for nominations commenced in the Democratic Party with the McGovern-Fraser Commission’s recommendations following the debacle that was the party’s 1968 convention. Beside requiring that convention delegates be selected by either primary elections or precinct caucuses, the McGovern-Fraser reforms also gave us proportional representation and open party meetings. McGovern-Fraser, perhaps the greatest change in the history of the presidential election process, might also be considered the first of a series of well-meaning rewards with some pretty vile consequences. One of its flaws was that proportional representation guaranteed a future of identity politics based on race and gender.
The next sea change occurred in 1974, when the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was established as part of a package of post-Watergate reforms. Within a few years, the FEC, sometimes known as the “Failure to Enforce Commission,” had given us an illegal regulatory contrivance allowing parties to spend unlimited amounts to influence voters, under the guise that it was not for federal elections and, therefore, not subject to federal campaign-spending limits.
Between the 1974 law and its child, the FEC, we were given political action committees, or PACs, which work to bundle money from various small(ish) contributors. If the contributors to a PAC happen to be all the executives of, say, Monsanto, well, it’s coincidental and non-coercive. Of course.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold, worked — but not for long — to limit federal-election spending to “hard money,” thus effectively restoring some limits on spending. Republican judges quickly squashed its important provisions.
A whole series of legal decisions have cut the pins from under the whole idea of contribution limits, and even of openness in the process. The Supreme Court’s bizarre 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo held that spending money in election campaigns is a constitutionally protected speech — in effect, that in politics, money and speech are identical.
The decision that has raised the most furor in recent years is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, handed down in 2010. It holds that the FEC cannot limit the amount of “independent” campaign expenditures by corporations (oh, and unions, as though their paltry money makes a difference in this equation). This has led to the formation of so-called Super PACs, and a boatload of money spent alongside, but ostensibly apart from, candidates’ campaigns. It is an open invitation to major corruption of the process.
And that is why Hillary Clinton will probably be the Democratic nominee. Small contributors like the 200,000 or more who have given to Bernie Sanders can raise impressive amounts, maybe $15 million. Clinton, who tied up the Super PAC money early, has said she will spend $2.5 billion in the election cycle. The very thought of it drives potential donors away from other candidates, or prospective candidates.
So where does the Clinton money come from? Here is a reasonably recent list of top donors. Hint: Citigroup is No. 1. Note that the list does not include her honoraria of $300,000 to give speeches that are better than Sominex, if you need that sort of thing.
With that kind of money, Clinton will have to be hit by a truck or a major scandal to lose the nomination. Don’t count on the State Department email controversy to do the job. It has the aroma of a typical Clinton story: perhaps distasteful, certainly imprudent, maybe temporarily damaging. Not illegal.
Money like Clinton’s doesn’t come from teachers and bricklayers, nor does it come from mom-and-pop businesses. It comes from banks and corporations, and it promises a continuing protection of the Wall Street interests, regardless of which party is victorious in November of 2016.