Koch Brothers As Thurston and Lovey Howell

I’m happy to report that at Ten Miles Square Seth Masket provides a nice moment of closure–for the moment, at least–to all the talk of what the Kochs are doing in the presidential primaries, complete with a Gilligan’s Island metaphor!

His main substantive point is a very good one:

So while the Kochs may signal a preference for one candidate over the other, the one thing they bring to the table — hundreds of millions of dollars — will not be used in the nomination process. That money, rather, will be devoted to the general election, where the Kochs will undoubtedly spend it to aid whomever the Republicans nominate against whomever the Democrats nominate. (Is there any possible Republican nominee whom the Kochs would not vastly prefer to Hillary Clinton?)

To some extent, this is understandable; the Kochs would rather not provoke a war within the party, and it is potentially dangerous for them to back one Republican but have another win the nomination. That would undermine their influence and access should that Republican become president. But it’s also an odd decision in that their money would be far more effective in the primaries. Their ability to determine the outcome of presidential elections has not been demonstrated.

Yep. One of the areas of strongest consensus among political scientists is that presidential general elections are probably the contests where money–so long as it’s roughly equal–has little impact on the results, while primaries can be enormously influenced by large and well-timed dollars. So if the Kochs really wanted to have the maximum impact, they’d probably do what Sheldon Adelson did in 2012: make it possible for a favored candidate to stay competitive, and then give a lot of money to the eventual nominee later on to ensure there are no hard feelings.

Masket goes on to question why Republican candidates are so solicitous of the Kochs even though they are not, apparently, picking a candidate early on, and here’s where Gilligan’s Island comes in:

This is where the Kochs remind me of Thurston and Lovey Howell, the millionaire castaways of “Gilligan’s Island.” The Howells’ millionaire status rested on assets that they did not have on the island, and any money they brought with them was useless in a society of seven people that did not operate on a cash basis. And the Howells didn’t really contribute anything to the society, the way the Skipper provided leadership or the Professor offered labor-saving inventions. In theory, the Howells could have rewarded people once they were rescued, but after a few years there, surely the castaways had given up any serious hope for a rescue. People nonetheless deferred to the Howells — they were the only castaways addressed as Mr. and Mrs., and the others regularly helped them out with chores in exchange for basically nothing.

I dunno. The Kochs are capable of making Republican pols’ lives easier or harder in so many ways, given their far-flung political interventions. And for all I know, the castaways on Gilligan’s Island may have been hoping for a reward if they all did get back to civilization. But yes, Americans, and particularly Americans in politics, do observe a “caste system” in which there’s significant deference to the rich whether it’s out of respect, greed or fear.

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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.