On a conference call with reporters just now, David Axelrod took a moment to gloat over the disastrous 2012 performance of Karl Rove's attack ad operation, joking that if he were one of the billionaires who had handed big checks to Rove, “I’d be asking for a refund.”
But Axelrod went on to say a bit more that raises a serious point. What if the failure of all that Super PAC cash to swing the election will ultimately undermine these organizations, by leading to skepticism among donors that all that advertising actually works — and a reluctance to give in the future?
“What was the impact of this unprecedented deluge of media?” Axelrod asked. “How much influence did this actually have?”
“The heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House; you can’t overwhelm the Congress with these Super PAC dollars,” Axelrod continued. “I would think there will be reluctance in the future, when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door, because of what happened on Tuesday.”
In an intriguing coincidence, Axelrod’s comments about Rove came at roughly the same moment as the GOP operative appeared on TV to claim that the Obama campaign won by “suppressing the vote” with negative ads that “turned off” voters. That’s an odd statement coming from the co-founder of the Crossroads operation, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this election, much of it on negative ads. That aside, it’s clear Rove needs to be able to tell all those wealthy donors something in order to explain why all those checks produced zero returns.
This isn’t just true of the presidential race, by the way. These groups pumped an enormous amount of money into key Senate races, to no avail. For instance, two of the top targets of all this money — Sherrod Brown and Claire McCaskill — won decisively. All that cash wasn’t enough to change the fact that the Republican candidates sucked.
I’m hoping for good research on the efficacy of all this spending — and on whether the enormity of it ended up producing a diminishing returns effect. Given just how much was spent — in return for so little of an impact — it does seem possible that wealthy donors may be somewhat more reluctant to hand over checks to these operations in the future. That would be a fitting outcome, given the loud chest thumping we heard from these groups early on about how their financial firepower would allow them to nuke Obama and Dems into toxic sludge in all these battlegrounds.
I don’t know if Tuesday’s outcome will dramatically reduce Super PAC spending on our elections in the future — a legislative solution may be the only thing that will work. But it was good to see that the Great Super PAC Attack of 2012 — the first time this has been tried on this scale in a presidential race — ended up being a big fizzle. The importance of that can’t be overstated. It’s a big deal that all that super PAC cash went up in flames.