September 15, 2015 by gregrabidoux2013
Yes, they do. But, there’s a catch.
They matter but mostly to the candidates. More precisely, they matter because for many it is one of only a handful of chances to convince potential donors that they are worthy of that money drop. That “Liebfraumilch,” that “Mother’s Milk,” that every candidate with aspirations of sitting in the Oval Office, yes, right where Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (wait, sorry, no one wants to hear that again), so desperately needs.
All, it would seem, except for Donald Trump, who has already said he’ll spend at least 1 billion of his own Trump-Bucks to get elected.
So, yes, each candidate gets to talk in the debate (IF they make the television, prime time cut) but as usual, money, and I mean really big (nope, bigger than you are now imagining) talks the loudest and unlike the voter, the money gets the last laugh.
Well, in 1960, presidential candidate John Kennedy was accused by fellow democrat and rival for his party’s nomination, Hubert Humphrey of spending an “extravagant and plush” amount of money in the Wisconsin primary.
Just how plush and how extravagant was this Kennedy money push?
About $72,000. Or, what Jeb Bush just spent a week ago for catering for one of his luncheon fundraisers. No joke, read my lips, no McNuggets for Jeb donors.
Even when adjusting for inflation from 1960, that $72,000 becomes only $2.2 million.
In case you are wondering, CNN will charge 40 times its normal fee for advertising during tomorrow’s televised debate (the 8PM primetime one) or over $250,000 for 30 seconds. “Hi, my name is John F. Kennedy and, uh, looks like that’s all the time I have tonight…”
Put another way, what John Quincy Adams once called, “incorrect in principle,” (actually paying money to run for president) has become an obscene, incredibly self-perpetuating industry unto itself.
Final money tabs from the 2012 election have President Obama raising over $725 million dollars and his opponent, Mitt Romney raising a “paltry” $468 million, or a combined $1.2 billion with a “B” or so dollars. Geez, I wonder what they’d have spent if you know, we had been in some type of recession or economic downturn?
So, with all this gobs of greenbacks being tossed around, how do presidential debates figure into this money equation?
Televised debates provide donors and Super PAC managers the chance to see if their guy (the GOP currently has 14 “guys” running) or their girl (Carly Fiorina on the GOP side, Hillary Clinton on the Dems side) is electable.
But what does that really mean?
It means two things really.
One, can h/she win the party primary and, Two, can h/she have the broader appeal to win in the general election. Hint: Mitt Romney need not apply.
At this point, it’s not just about numbers, no just kidding, it’s really all about numbers. Kind of like an NFL team making pre-season cuts (Tim Tebow, I’ll miss you, man), there is just not enough room for everybody.
And currently, the GOP presidential stage is a crowded one.
There are eleven (11) invitees to the “Big Show,” the primetime televised debate tomorrow night at 8:00 PM EST on CNN, but there is the “undercard” of 4 invitees to the earlier, 6:00 PM EST televised GOP debate.
So, if you were lucky enough to make the CNN cut (you placed in the top 10 in terms of polling 4 weeks prior to the event) you get primetime and a chance to make your case to yes, the viewers, but honestly, more importantly at this point, your potential donors. Mother’s Milk, remember? And these are just baby candidates, and they need to all grow up big and strong, fast, certainly before primary season starts.
And who are your top ten? Well, actually, Top 11, due to a statistical polling tie between two of the GOP candidates. So, in order of polling rank, the folks who will jockey for the inside money and voter poll are:
Donald Trump (33%), Ben Carson (20%), Jeb Bush (8%), Ted Cruz (7%), Marc Rubio (6.5%), Rand Paul (5%), Mike Huckabee (3%), John Kasich (2.5%), the “surging” (per CNN reports) Carly Fiorina (2%) tied with Scott Walker with 2% and the once “can’t miss” Chris Christie bringing up the caboose with 1.2%.
Not making the cut but looking to be called up to the Big Show are;
Bobby Jindal (1%), Rick Santorum (1%), Lindsey Graham (0.8%) and George Pataki (0.2%).
Now, what about this intimacy between money and votes?
I spoke with a DC based PAC manager this morning with this blog in mind. He said that while there is no “magic number,” if a candidate fails to break 5% or he or she is trending downward (Hello and Goodbye Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Adios for sure to Rick Perry) the money may all but dry up.
When I pressed him a bit, he did say that 5% is something of a “break-point,” meaning, that if and when a candidate breaks that ceiling and is trending upward OR is seen as the potential to do so but needs a money-push (Nice to meet ya, Carly Fiorina) then h/she is very likely to attract serious money.
Besides the big money watch, what else should the rest of us watch for during tomorrow’s debate?
Well, speaking of “watches,” in the 1992 televised debate then President George H.W. Bush snuck a peak at his watch during an audience Q&A and was roiled by the media for looking “disinterested, bored and tired” while Bill Clinton seemed to want the debate to never end. Hey, it was after 9PM EST and that as I understand it is bed time for the Bushies. Jeb, be careful what you sat after 9PM tomorrow night.
Of course, sometimes it’s just that one quip, however scripted that can make or break a candidate. When then 73 year-old Ronald Reagan joked that he “would not use the relative youth and inexperience” of his opponent (Walter Mondale) against him in the 1984 campaign debate it was pretty much all over except to pin the last GOP electoral vote on the tail of the Democratic Donkey.
Sometimes, it’s just the eyeball test that is telling. Richard Nixon in the first televised debate looked gaunt and pale with no make-up in 1960, Al Gore looked orange from way too much make-up in 2000 and Mike Dukakis just looked small, Ross Perot-small in 1988.
So, do these debates matter?
You bet. We’re giving them the early eyeball test, while Big Money is sizing them up for electability and they had better not come up too short. Or too orange.