Will 2016 Discredit Super-PACs?

At the Atlantic Molly Ball poses a provocative question: will that super-weapon of contemporary politics, the Super-PAC, wind up being a lot more trouble that it’s worth to candidates who cannot even talk to the strategists and operatives deployed to “their” Super-PACs?

Ball focuses on the prohibition on “coordination” as the key problem with Super-PACs. I dunno. For one thing, I have a hard time imagining a serious presidential campaign going up in flames because of a “rule” no one other than the toothless Federal Election Commission is in a position to enforce. For another, the candidates were all free to coordinate with Super-PACs to their hearts’ desire before officially declaring (this was supposedly why some of them, especially Jeb Bush, waited so long to announce) their bids. Wouldn’t you figure Mike Murphy of Right to Rise worked out a daily operational plan with Jeb running right up to the Convention, with four or five variables factored in to account for what happens along the way?

Now it’s true that such advance planning probably did not anticipate an early Invisible Primary dominated by Donald J. Trump. And indeed, the signs of trouble in Bushworld Ball mentions all involve how the candidate and the Super-PAC are dealing, or failing to deal, with The Donald. Trump’s emergence, moreover, has had a huge ripple effect on all the rival campaigns, not just those from whom he has presumably won poll respondents, but even the bottom-feeders who see no reason to give up since the presumed front-runners are down there with them messing around in the single digits as well.

But it’s way too early to pass judgment on Super-PACs as a group. For all I know, some monster of a Super-PAC not tied to any candidate may be building up a plan and a war chest as we speak to go totally medieval on Trump on the fairly reasonable assumption that no one, not even Jesus Christ, could survive a sustained and vicious negative ad barrage with an unlimited budget. And partisan Super-PACs will presumably play a big role in the general election, especially on the GOP side, when the strategic decisions such entities must make are a lot less complicated.

The two things we do know are that Super-PACs can insulate candidates from ebbs and flows in their “market share” of support, for a time at least; and that there’s some wastage involved because they cannot command the discount ad rates actually campaigns enjoy. But I don’t think we should spend too much time wondering if Mike Murphy is weeping with frustration as he looks at his silent cell phone and realizes once again the Jeb’s not going to call.

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.