Easy come, easy go — but to what end?
When business billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his presidential campaign last month, he made it clear that the most formidable weapon in his campaign arsenal is his astounding personal wealth.
Asked how much he is willing to spend, Bloomberg replied, “Whatever it takes.”
He’s been as good as his word since then, spending money on campaign commercials in several primary states, including Illinois, at a record-setting page.
New accounts indicate that Bloomberg, a self-made success in the business world, already has spent $120 million.
By early measurements, it hasn’t gotten him very far in his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Other candidates — veteran politicos Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others — are dominating the public opinion polls.
But it’s still early — not a single primary vote has been cast. As the candidate field thins even further, there’ll be more of an opportunity for Bloomberg’s spending to have the desired impact.
That, of course, raises the question — can money buy elections?
The answer is a definite yes.
But can it buy all elections? Will it buy the 2020 presidential election?
The answers to those two questions are no and maybe.
An ample campaign chest is a significant weapon, a reality that’s been repeatedly acknowledged over the year in comments both humorous and flowery.
For example, Ohio’s Mark Hanna, a key leader of the Republican Party in the early 1900s, once quipped, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.”
California’s Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California State Assembly in the 1960s, reached poetic levels in his salute to the benefit of campaign cash, describing it as the “mother’s milk of politics.”
But it’s not everything.
California’s Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Huffington spent $28 million of his own money in 1994, at the time the most spent for a non-presidential campaign in American history. He lost to Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
So far this year, another billionaire, Tom Steyer, has spent more than $80 million to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But the businessman hasn’t even been able to make the debate field.
Currently polling 0 percent nationally and just 2.5 percent and 3.7 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, Steyer is definitely not getting his money’s worth.
Bloomberg isn’t doing much better — he stands at 4.9 percent nationally in the Real Clear Politics average of public opinion polls.
But his campaign spending cuts two ways. As Bloomberg hopes it plays out, his ads that both introduce him and attack President Trump are helping him and hurting Trump. If he can’t kill two birds with one stone, one just might do him.
Speculation, of course, runs amok as the political year advances. But it positively gushes in the early stages because there are few concrete facts — like election results — that contradict the speculation.
That makes the question about the impact of Bloomberg’s money irresistible now, even though the answers won’t be forthcoming for months.