Candidates used to worry that their funding wouldn’t match their support. Now money keeps them shambling forward long after the voters have fled.
Robert Farmer, a legendary Democratic fundraiser of the 1980s and 1990s, once described how presidential campaigns ended: “People don’t lose campaigns. They run out of money and can’t get their planes in the air. That’s the reality.” Most candidates would run out of money long before they ran out of potential votes or plausible paths to victory. The winner of the nomination would often be the candidate with enough financial reserves to keep going when the others couldn’t afford jet fuel, and Farmer’s skill was in making sure that his candidates — Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — had that advantage.
That was the reality in 1992, but it’s not the reality today, especially on the Republican side. On the day after the New Hampshire primary, we now have a phenomenon in which a number of candidates who really have no possibility of winning their party’s nomination will keep going only because they can — because the money is there, either in their own campaign accounts or in a Super PAC committed to supporting the campaign, such as the pro-Newt Gingrich group into which casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson recently dumped $5 million.
So whereas in the 1990s we had candidates who died prematurely — they ran out of money while they still had a chance — we now have, in effect, zombie candidates. They’re alive and can spend money and attack Mitt Romney even though their actual political lives are over. Rick Perry is not going to be the Republican nominee for president. (He joins a short list of well-financed Texans, including John Connally in 1980 and Phil Gramm in 2000, who spent many millions of dollars to win one or fewer delegates to the Republican convention.) Newt Gingrich is not going to be the Republican nominee. Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Buddy Roemer, Rick Santorum — same deal. But they’ve got money and nothing to lose, and it seems they’ve all developed a personal distaste for Romney, so they will throw everything they’ve got at the nominee — including attacks on his “vulture capitalism” at Bain Capital — without regard to the consequences.