The spectacular bust of Jeb Bush’s campaign for president so far is as much a story about Bush himself as it is about the failure of Right to Rise, the shock-and-awe super PAC that was supposed to launch him into the lead and keep him there.
Right to Rise raised $103 million in 2015 and has spent more than $65 million so far. But nine months after he got into the race, Bush has collapsed from first to a tie for worst and is now polling at less than 5 percent nationally.
There’s no nice way to say this, and I’ll take it back if he wins, but Bush's super PAC donors just wasted $103 million. It’s only made more mind-boggling by what all of that money could have paid for instead, including the sorts of things his family has always worked for. For $103 million, the donors could have:
- Bought 20 million children’s books for the Barbara Bush Foundation.
- Sent 22,421 4-year-olds to preschool for a year.
- Covered a year's tuition for 10,624 students to go to college.
- Paid for a year of anti-retroviral drug treatment for 719,424 children in Africa. Read it again — 719,424 children.
Of course, charity probably isn’t what the Right to Rise donors had on their minds when they got out their checkbooks.
If they just wanted to make Bush look good, they could have held a news conference with 380 million bottles of water in Flint, Mich., (how much water they could have bought from Costco for $103 million), and said they were giving their money to the city for drinking water, instead of to Bush’s campaign, because that’s what he would really want.
If influence is what they wanted to buy, they could have gotten a lot more bang for their buck elsewhere. That same $103 million would have taken every Republican governor out to dinner in Washington 67,000 times each, or given a lifetime supply of Teslas to every member of Congress. I think three Teslas per member would do it. Teslas don't really need much gas, but if they did, Bush's people could also have bought 50 million gallons instead.
But if winning the White House was their goal, they could have helped Bush win Iowa with a splash by anonymously buying every likely Republican Iowa caucus-goer a hoverboard and a puppy. Or a cow. Or an $800 Starbucks gift card.
The alternatives may sound ridiculous, but so is giving $103 million to a super PAC in an era when free social media, millions of angry voters and unlimited campaign donations are combining to reduce, not increase, the effectiveness of money in politics. It's as true for Bush as it was for Scott Walker, whose super PAC had $20 million in the bank when he bailed out. Likewise, Texas Gov. Rick Perry had mega-donor Darwin Deeson teed up to spend $5 million before he dropped out last year. Even with unlimited money flowing into presidential campaigns, a universal truth in politics still holds up: You can't make voters want what they don't like.
The irony of money taking a backseat to voter sentiment this cycle is that Donald Trump has rocketed to the top of the polls based in part on his promise to self-finance his campaign and thus, in the minds of his voters, remain "un-bought" by special interests. The reality is that Trump is a walking, talking special interest who has been savvy enough to skip the middlemen, namely candidates such as Jeb Bush, and run for the White House himself.
After a year of throwing good money at a bad problem, Bush’s backers are reportedly waiting to get a “hall pass” from the Bush family so they can take the rest of their money elsewhere for 2016. But the lesson from the Bush campaign’s looming doom shouldn’t be to whom they can now give their money instead, but how else they could have made a difference.
As it is, the impact their money has had is zero.