Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sometimes It Isn't So Invisible

A quick tip of the toque (it is -5 outside) to Seth Masket for putting his tweeps onto this NYT article a few moments ago.  As Masket noted, sometimes the signs of party insiders gravitating towards a candidate are very "subtle" indeed.  In this case, with Priorities USA being handed over from President Obama's allies to supporters of Hillary Clinton's likely run, it's as subtle as a sledgehammer.  According to Open Secrets, Priorities USA pumped about $65 million into outside spending in 2012, with nearly all of it on negative ads targeting Mitt Romney.  While they were outpaced by nearly $100 million by Karl Rove's American Crossroads, we're talking about an organization poised to spend a serious chunk of change come election season.  While we're talking big bucks here, the significance of this in regards to the invisible primary, isn't so much the potential funding, but the people lining up in her corner.

As important as this is, we must remember that in the invisible primary, just as in the general election, money isn't a guarantee of success.  As I noted here, not only is the term "money primary" something I'd like to relegate to the dustbin of the political lexicon (as it tends to conflate two separate processes: one nearly determinative of the nomination outcome, one not at all so), the key financial variable that we need to pay attention to at this stage is the money flowing from the candidates to other political organizations (candidate, committees, and parities), rather than flowing to them.  Obviously, the stream of money through outside groups, who in turn spend on behalf of a candidate, has had an imprint on the invisible primary, but just how instrumental of a role it has in securing the actual nomination is yet to be seen.  Of course the rules could very well change in any given cycle, but I'm skeptical about declaring that sort of seismic shift in the invisible primary rule book until we see some hard evidence in our 2016 postmortems.

Regardless, this is a clear sign that many in the Democratic party elite, in this case key operatives and fundraisers, are triangulating on a certain focal point; and boat loads of outside spending certainly won't hurt Clinton's chances.  For me, I'm still betting that the real key to Clinton's invisible primary success or failure will be how much money she can direct towards others within the party, just as George W. Bush was doing at this point in the 2000 election cycle.  The only real difference as I see it between now and then, is that some of the means of funding and spending have been further refined (yes refined) in the intervening 16 years.  The same can probably be said for the rules of the Invisible Primary.

Addendum: I was rereading chapter 8 of The Party Decides this morning for a research project I've just picked up (stay tuned, as it's all about the invisible primary), and a very prescient passage jumped out at me.  For those of you that haven't read the book, do so soon.  For those who have, recall the analogy the authors use of "the restaurant game" (a large group of people deciding on what type of restaurant to go to) for the various factions of a party triangulating on a candidate.  "If fish lovers flock to the fish restaurant, it provides little information to diners who happen not to be fish lovers." (261)  That is largely what's happening here.  The original NYT article notes, that this is a veritable who's who of the Clinton administration's political team, with a few Obama hangers around thrown in the mix.  Obviously the fact that the Obama crew has handed off the structure of Priorities USA is an important development, but we mustn't lose sight of the fact that what we're seeing here is previously loyal Clinton people rallying back to Clinton for this open nomination.  Should they cast a wider net, and start bringing in folks from other Democratic factions (beef and porker lovers, and vegans, to press the analogy further), then we've getting somewhere in terms of invisible primary traction.


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