How Democrats Are ‘Owning the Cons’

Every Republican attack activates the party’s grassroots donor base. Just ask Sen. David Perdue who not-so-subtly mangled Kamala Harris’s name.

At a Trump campaign rally in Macon, Georgia on Friday, Sen. David Perdue made a joke about mispronouncing the name of the Democratic nominee for vice-president, Sen. Kamala Harris. That the Georgia Republican can’t (or won’t) accurately pronounce the name of a colleague with whom he has served on the Budget Committee for almost four years reverberated mightily. It was an obvious racist dog whistle to the MAGA crowd. 

But that isn’t the end of the story. A video of Perdue’s comments went viral, sparking the Twitter hashtag #MyNameIs, populated primarily by individuals who have been mocked and bullied because of their names. As a result, Perdue’s Democratic opponent in the U.S.Senate race, Jon Ossoff, had raised almost $2 million from at least 42,000 donors by Sunday. 

At Politico, James Larkin and Elena Schneider explain that, in the midst of a giant wave of Democratic fundraising for 2020 candidates, this is an ongoing phenomenon. They quote Josh Holmes, a McConnell advisor, who lamented that every news development activates Democrats, and “their default is to give $5 every time something angers them.” Conversely, when Republicans see something that angers them, “their response is to write something on Facebook.” 

We’ve seen the Democratic donor base get activated before. When Majority Leader McConnell promised to rush through a Supreme Court nominee just hours after the announcement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Democrats responded by donating $160 million, primarily to Senate candidates.

The surge in donations isn’t always sparked by anger. In the four hours after Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be his running mate, the former vice president’s campaign raised more than $10.8 million.

This kind of response from Democrats is made possible because, back in 2004, a couple of techies named Matt DeBergalis and Ben Rahn created an online fundraising tool called “ActBlue.” Their goal in the 2008 election cycle was to raise $100 million. The site has raised $1.5 billion in just the last three months. That is why, during the third quarter, Democrats running for the Senate raised $401 million, while Republican candidates only took in $163 million. 

One of the most entertaining things to watch on Twitter has been the banter between Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)—both of whom have become masters of social media. They regularly launch fundraising drives on behalf of a Democratic Senate candidate. Here’s how their latest effort began on Sunday.

They chose MJ Hegar, who is challenging  John Cornyn, the incumbent Texas Republican, for his U.S. Senate seat. Before long, they were joined in the fundraising push by a cavalcade of Democratic all-stars, including Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Adam Schiff, and Ted Lieu. Less than 24 hours later, they had raised almost $300,000 from 8,600 donors. Twitter supplied the social media platform, and ActBlue provided the fundraising tool. That’s a far cry from how big-donor fundraising is done behind closed doors with bundlers and costly fundraisers.

Realizing that they were at a disadvantage, Republicans developed an online fundraising platform in 2019 called WinRed, but it is not nearly the fundraising machine that is ActBlue. In the third quarter of 2020, when ActBlue raised $1.5 billion, WinRed topped out at $623.5 million. Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a moderate who lost his seat in 2018,  explained that many of his colleagues have assumed that “95 percent of the money you would raise would be from large donors, political action committees.” As a result, they haven’t developed the kind of grassroots contacts required to do small-donor fundraising. It is also, of course, hard to imagine Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Rick Scott teaming up on Twitter to raise money for their colleague Sen. Dan Sullivan, the Alaska Republican who is struggling to get reelected.  

But perhaps the biggest obstacle Republicans face in replicating the Democrats’ success at small-donor fundraising is that, especially in the era of Donald Trump, their supporters think that winning is all about “owning the libs.” Just like their leader, they assume that a brutal attack on Twitter or Facebook is the end-goal because it feeds their emotional need for revenge. That’s a loser mentality that goes a long way towards explaining how Democrats are “owning the cons.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.