Does Enthusiasm Raise the Dough?

I’m outspokenly skeptical about the endlessly discussed (or more often, assumed) value of “enthusiasm” in politics. In both 2010 and 2014, it was frequently projected as the reason for Democratic turnout falloff in midterms, which would be compelling if the groups exhibiting this behavior didn’t always vote at much lower levels in midterms. It is the perennial fetish of people in both parties who want “the base” to have more influence–you know, they bring all that “enthusiasm.” And up to a point, of course, it does matter–the most important point being the decision to vote; after that you do not get a bonus for being enthusiastic or excited or psyched out of your skull about it. Yes, enthusiasm can occasionally be contagious, and yes, enthusiastic people tend to volunteer more hours and write more of those small-dollar checks. But there’s a limit to these advantages, and it’s a mistake to get all mystical about it.

Yet Scott Walker seems to be making the claim that enthusiasm matters for big-dollar donors, too, by way of minimizing Jeb Bush’s money edge in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith:

Yeah, he’ll have by far the biggest report. There’s a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report. What we’re hoping going forward are not donors of obligation but donors of passion, people who are passionate about the reforms we bring to the table.

Hah. Yeah, we all understand Walker’s saying the Bush family has bought the loyalty of its donor-base. But the idea of “donors of passion” at the high-dollar level is interesting. Wonder if Team Walker’s going to have tiers of donors like W.’s famous “Pioneers” and “Eagles,” but divided by degrees of passion.

The Our America Revival PAC is proud to announce that Fred Merkle, president of the Cedar Rapids Ball Peen Hammer Manufacturing Company, has become a Donor of Red Hot Passion with his $500,000 contribution. He will receive a special Red Pepper lapel pin from Governor Walker at the Iowa State Fair next week.

How can Jeb compete with that? And did you know passionate dollars have greater purchasing power?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.