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The Big-Donor Math

Wealthy donors are confident that whichever party wins the presidency, their interests will be secure.

A thought.

One of the reasons that big business hasn’t been able to step in and reverse the electoral train wreck that is the Trump campaign is not that the racist rank-and-file of the GOP base has so much power that big business is helpless. It is instead that big business feels relatively assured that even if the GOP goes down to defeat, it will have a friend and ally in Hillary Clinton’s administration and neoliberal elites within the Democratic Party.

Clarence Thomas, of all people, gives us a clue that this may be the thinking among these elite sectors of the business class.

In his concurring/dissenting opinion in the 2003 case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, Thomas writes:

The joint opinion [of the majority, authored by Justices Stevens and O’Connor] also places a substantial amount of weight on the fact that “in 1996 and 2000, more than half of the top 50 soft-money donors gave substantial sums to both major national parties,” and suggests that this fact “leav[es] room for no other conclusion but that these donors were seeking influence, or avoiding retaliation, rather than promoting any particular ideology.” Ante, at 38 (emphasis in original). But that is not necessarily the case.

The two major parties are not perfect ideological opposites, and supporters or opponents of certain policies or ideas might find substantial overlap between the two parties. If donors feel that both major parties are in general agreement over an issue of importance to them, it is unremarkable that such donors show support for both parties. This commonsense explanation surely belies the joint opinion’s too-hasty conclusion drawn from a relatively innocent fact.

Thomas not only points out that there is “substantial [ideological] overlap between the two parties,” but notes that donors — and, remember, he’s talking about elite, wealthy donors here — have good reasons to give to both parties.

Whichever party wins office, those donors can expect that their material interests will be fulfilled. Not because of bribery, simple quid-pro-quos, or access, or influence, but simply because both parties are so ideologically amenable to meeting the needs and interests of wealthy donors.

Which leads to a second thought.

While GOP officeholders in Congress certainly want to be elected — and thus have an interest in the party remaining electorally competitive, at both the congressional and presidential level, and avoiding train wrecks like Trump — they have good reason to believe that they can rely upon state-level gerrymandering and dirty tricks to keep them in power.

So if getting reelected is their main concern, they have little incentive to challenge the Trumpist base. (This may change after November; we’ll see.)

And as long as the Democratic Party remains beholden to these elite donors that Thomas is talking about, those elements of big business that might otherwise want to make sure that the Republican Party remains electorally viable — if for no other reason than to have a reliable ally that will take care of their business interests in Congress — will have even less incentive to challenge the base.

Which leads to two conclusions: first, for the foreseeable future, there will be no element within the Republican Party that will have either sufficient interest or power to challenge the base.

Second, not until the big-business elements of the Democratic Party are curbed — and thus forced to fall back on the GOP as their principal base of power — will there be any basis for a real challenge to Trumpism within the GOP.