You’re idealistic, concerned about all the problems in the world, and want to help people. Should you run for president?
Certainly it’s very unlikely that you’ll win. On the other hand, many long-shot candidates have been nominated and some even elected. Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest upsets in US political history in 2016. Before him, Barack Obama did the same in 2008. And in 1992, so did Bill Clinton, the governor of a small state and from a family with no political connections, but who nevertheless defeated very well-connected opponents. If you decide to run, maybe you too will get lucky and follow their lead.
But before you throw your hat into the ring you should do some serious thinking. You will need to put together a team that includes a talented and hard-working staff, lawyers, a campaign manager, publicist, speech writers, consultants, pollsters, and communications experts.
You will also need to open campaign offices in the various states, hire staffs for them, write and print political literature, distribute campaign buttons and balloons, pay airfare for yourself and close aides, buy radio/TV and print ads, and other necessities. And all of these will add considerably to your already strained budget.
The bottom line is that any candidate running for president will need a very substantial war chest. As a ballpark-number figure on $500 million, and that’s the bare-bones minimum. Unfortunately, this last requirement means that most sincere and talented people will never be able to run for high political office.
According to Investopedia, “the cost of campaigning to be elected president has steadily risen over the last 100 years.” And this was particularly true between 2000 and 2012, “when spending by the candidates more than quadrupled.”
How Money Flies
Consider, for example, the campaign in 2000 when neither Al Gore, nor the winner, George W. Bush, spent more than $200 million. But only four years later, in the race in 2004, Bush spent $345 million in his reelection bid, making it at the time the costliest political campaign in history.
But that record was shattered in 2008, when Barack Obama alone spent $730 million, more than double the amount Bush spent four years earlier and also more than double the $333 million his opponent John McCain spent in his losing bid.
And in 2012, that record was once again shattered. Usually the candidate who spends the most money gets elected, but that year was an exception. The total amount spent to re-elect President Obama was a whopping $985.7 million. But the total spent to elect former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was even higher: $992 million.
Investopedia reports that the amount of money it takes to become president has increased more than 250-fold from the time Abraham Lincoln ran in 1860 to Barack Obama’s first campaign. Even more amazing is that “the trajectory is getting steeper,” suggesting that “not only campaign spending but also the growth rate in campaign spending is accelerating rapidly,” it adds.
Of course, the total amount that will be spent on the race for president in 2020 won’t be known for some time, but there are indications it will exceed the number spent in 2016. So far, fundraising for the 2020 presidential race is outpacing that of the last two campaigns, said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher for the Center of Responsive Politics. “I think it’s likely campaign spending will continue to increase” in next year’s election,” he said. “It’s costing more than ever before to run as a serious candidate.”
This observation by itself should be enough to deter most people from getting involved in politics, but not everyone. On Nov. 24, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was entering the already crowded Democratic field in the race for president. “I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and to rebuild America,” he said. He won’t be nervous about the high cost; with a fortune estimated at more than $55 billion, he can pay whatever bills come his way.
Bloomberg proved himself a very capable administrator; he took office just four months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, when both the country and the city were reeling from a very severe recession. Despite those challenges he was instrumental in rebuilding the Wall Street area, saved the city’s economy from totally falling apart, and continued to reduce the crime rate.
Although these accomplishments are impressive and well known, Bloomberg’s popularity is surprisingly low – just 3% in some recent polls. In other words, he’ll have to spend a great deal of money to try to convince voters to support him, and in fact he has already started doing that with a massive advertising blitz.
Bloomberg is facing an uphill battle for two reasons. First, these days there is growing resentment of people who are very wealthy. Given the current environment, it is possible not only that Bloomberg’s vast empire will not be helpful but that it may even prove to be a disadvantage. Moreover, there is a clear upsurge in anti-Semitism across the country, which could siphon off support he otherwise may have received.
“I think (Bloomberg) will discover that being rich the way he is rich...is not a very good way to govern America,” former Republican Speaker of the House and Presidential wannabee Newt Gingrich told Fox News.
Interestingly, Donald Trump, also a multi-billionaire, doesn’t generate those negative sentiments among voters. In fact, many of his supporters are enthusiastic about his reelection because they see him as one of them, believe he understands their problems and genuinely cares about them.
There’s an expression that talk is cheap, but in politics it’s money – not people – that does the talking.
“Will everyone who can’t afford to contribute big bucks to a political candidate please step aside” is the first rule of the game. Unfortunately, this rule applies to most of us.
Sources: bloomberg.com; foxnews.com; investopedia.com; policygenius.com; wsj.com.