Current betting odds on PredictWise put Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination just shy of 80%. I have been distinguishing between Types A and B Trump Denialism as follows: Type A denialism is denying that Trump can win the nomination, and Type B denialism is denying that Trump's success indicates a problem in political science models of nomination contests. Type A denialism seems to be on its last breath. Just a few dead-enders, right? (As usual, google it if you don't get the reference).
Type B denialism, though, is alive and well, and this post is the fifth detailing how our models have led us astray in political science. This time, let's talk about money, but not in the way one might think. Let's talk about self-funded candidates.
In my opinion, one of the most important lines of research on campaign finance has been that of Jennifer Steen. Her book, Self-financed Candidates in Congressional Elections, demonstrates one of the more important points for understanding the real role of money in elections. Self-financed candidates lose. Why? Because money doesn't do what people think it does.
Everyone needs a villain to explain why their side loses elections. For conservatives, that villain is voter fraud. Oh, no, voter fraud! There's so much voter fraud! Except that nobody can find any evidence of it on a scale large enough to affect election outcomes. But that's not the point of whining about voter fraud. The point is that we feel better when we tell ourselves that everyone really agrees with us. However, if that's true, how can we explain when we lose an election? We need a boogeyman. Enter voter fraud. The prominent explanation among Republicans about why they lost 2008 and 2012 was rampant voter fraud. Remember ACORN? No? Look it up. If some nefarious organization fixed the election, then all we have to do is clean up the electoral process and our side will always win! It's a convenient but bullshit rationalization.
For liberals, it's all about the money. Oh, no! Money! Money is eeeeeevil! We have to get all that icky, icky money out of politics! You see, everyone really agrees with me, so if the other side wins an election, it must be because those nasty, evil rich people bought the election with their filthy, filthy money! Notice the similarity? Of course, the empirical literature on campaign spending in political science shows that money has nowhere near the effect that whiny goo-goos* assert, and the best demonstration is Steen's work on the topic.
If money bought elections, then it wouldn't matter whose money is at play. A dollar is a dollar. So, why do self-funded candidates lose? Because if they were strong enough candidates to get contributions, they wouldn't need to spend their own money! If they are spending their own money, it is because they suck as candidates. Michael Bloomberg won the New York mayor's office, but he's the anomaly. Don't believe me? Read Steen's book.
I have no patience for goo-gooism.
What does this mean for Trump? Well, Trump announced his intention to self-fund at the beginning of the race! Self-funded candidates lose. So, Trump was toast, right? Obviously not. However, what happened doesn't hurt Steen's argument. She's still right, unlike The Party Decides (die, dead horse, die!). Trump hasn't actually spent any of his own money. He hasn't needed to. All he has to do is say something outrageous and he gets more free media attention than the money could possibly have bought.
I wrote off Trump partially because he announced his intention to self-fund. He hasn't needed to spend anything, though. In the end, this winds up demonstrating the weakness of money. Jeb! was the beneficiary of the most superPAC money by far. It bought him exactly bupkis. Trump? He's kept his money right where it belongs.
*Derogatory term for advocates of "good government" reforms.