Conventional wisdom holds that no Republican can win statewide without the endorsement of the Conservative Party. The truth is that the Conservative Party has been the tail wagging the dog of New York State politics for the better part of the last 30 years. This has caused many of my fellow Republicans to long for (no pun intended) GOP political hegemony and a withering of the Conservative Party.
It’s sheer folly to suggest that the Conservative Party is solely responsible for the string of losses we have suffered with statewide candidates (we have more than enough blame to spread around). Notably and most recently, Conservative Party favorite 2010 gubernatorial nominee Rick Lazio would have certainly performed well enough to help Harry Wilson over the finish line as opposed to Carl Paladino’s explosive candidacy.
But while the Conservative Party retains outsized leverage as a king-maker in the nominating process, the operational question is who is going to fund the socially conservative candidates that the party advances?
Donors give for a passel of reasons but most of them can be boiled down to the following three categories.
Money follows incumbents: A well trod maxim of politics, no need to say more.
Money follows winners: There is a whole class of Democrat and Republican donors who simply chase the polls; they give to who they expect will win. They donate predominantly on the basis of their self-interest and in an increasingly blue state like New York – theses donor aren’t apt to see socially conservative candidates as a good bet. They are typically socially agnostic or content to not let their personal views dictate their political decisions. As such, no matter how good the Republican candidate or how weak the Democrat – fund raising will be an uphill battle for the GOP.
Money follows ideology: There are many deep pocketed Republican donors and some still do give on issues such as abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage. Yet despite the heightened conversation on the religious exemption in Obamacare, with New York’s own Cardinal Dolan a prominent voice, it would be hard to identify a spike in Catholic donors? The reality is that New York is not the best battleground for these issues and often times even these funders will play “follow the winner” and seek more hospitable enrollment environs to advance their agenda.
Further, and perhaps more troubling for conservatives is that, much like New York at large, the Republican donor base has become more tolerant (or libertarian) and in some cases are even proponents of a moderate social agenda. Some of the Republicans biggest and best-known donors like David Koch, and Sheldon Adelson are social moderates while others such as Paul Singer are out-and-out advocates.
Who is left to fund socially conservative candidates in New York?
Doubters will say that I’m drawing the wrong conclusion based on the huge sucking sound that was the Presidential race money machine. That in an off-year, national conservative money would be more apt to make its way to statewide candidates in New York. But with Citizens United, there has never been more money in play and more access to funding for every kind of candidate and ideology. Citizens United didn’t necessarily change the rules of what candidates get funding, it just changed the overall amounts spent.
I still believe that the right socially conservative candidate, in the right year, against the right opponent can win in New York – but you are going to have a hard time convincing the donor community of that reality. So the next time the Conservative Party comes knocking with a social conservative we need to ask the question how do they compete, where do they raise money?
We need to say “Show Me the Money.”
If they can’t, New York Republicans should resolve now that we will be better off putting to the test the conventional wisdom.