The writings of Jason L. Riley span politics, economics, education, immigration, and race, among other subjects. The Buffalo-born Riley has worked for the Buffalo News, USA Today, and, for the last 23 years, the Wall Street Journal, becoming one of the leading conservative journalists in the United States. The frequent Fox News commentator is currently working on a biography of Thomas Sowell. Riley’s first book, which was about immigration, was Let Them In (2008). Next came Please Stop Helping Us (2014), examining the history of failed governmental assistance to black Americans. Templeton Press has just published his third book, False…
Campaign finance reformers worry a lot about the influence of money in politics. But big money was not decisive this season. Jeb Bush had over $100 million in his campaign chest and associated Super PAC but went nowhere, at a cost of over $500 per voter. Ben Carson was well-funded and flopped. Over in the Democratic primary race, the less flush candidate came near to pulling off an upset against a powerful legacy candidate.
But even more importantly, this campaign season shows that celebrity can count for more than money. Donald Trump may be a billionaire, but he spent very little money up to this point compared to the other major candidates. What fueled his candidacy was celebrity. He had one of the most ubiquitous names in real estate for decades and one of the most watched reality shows on American television.
He was able to leverage that celebrity to secure vastly more free media exposure than any other candidate. With a savvy born of years in the New York media market, he knew exactly how to spin the Fourth Estate. The media was more than happy to return the favor. Trump makes great copy. And not only that, at least some in the largely liberal press corps were happy to see him split the Republican Party.
The more abstract point is that restricting money in campaigns, far from being a safeguard, increases the political power of celebrity.
It looks as if the Republicans are stuck with the strange truth that, now more than ever, their leading candidates are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
The perception of the members of a key focus group was that Carson is “wise” and a “gentleman.” He might be more immune than Jeb to the Trump allegation that he’s “low energy.” While he did seem nervously lacking in assertiveness during the first two debates, his tone is inspirational on the stump and at times on the talk shows. He excels at quietly but firmly articulating American exceptionalism as a mixture of economic liberty and Biblical faith. For better and worse, Ben Carson isn’t much like Jeb Bush.