Wanted: Angel Investors Against Hillary Clinton

Why just a few rich anti-Hillary progressives could fund a race the media would cover.

Politico's great Ken Vogel is out with a detailed and ambitious story about the "rogue donors" who might be willing to bankroll a challenger to Hillary Clinton. They are few but proud – talking to the media, after all, is their best course of action for the moment. The list: Deborah Sagner (Obama bundler in 2012, now raising for the Draft Elizabeth Warren campaign), Guy Saperstein (part owner of Oakland As, provided seed money for the Warren people), and several donors who gave to Obama and have talked to Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley.

That's it. That's enough. The very existence of these donors is powerful, and they know that. The press, which desperately wants to cover some Democratic story other than the Clinton Coronation, has largely decided that Clinton will be a Wall Street/Goldman Sachs/Robert Rubin candidate at a moment when the populist left thinks it can drive the party elsewhere. A donor who wants to fuel a campaign from the left is, de facto, a sort of angel investor whose money can only improve politics.

There is a precedent for this, dated (at least) to 1967/1968, when a small group of wealthy liberals gave Senator Eugene McCarthy's campaign the startup capital to run a primary in New Hampshire. Fewer than a dozen people came up with $1.5 million (roughly $10 million, adjusted for inflation). For perspective, the previous cycle's Johnson-Goldwater general election cost less than $45 million. 

What would it take to run a credible challenge against Hillary Clinton in 2015?* Not that much, as the threshold for "credibility" is so low. The people who want a primary don't necessarily want to beat Clinton. In an interview with Alex Seitz-Wald, which according to Vogel caused tremors in Clintonland, new Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer suggested that Clinton would benefit from a primary and that "Democrats are in good enough shape that we can handle a little internal discussion without falling apart." He was not calling for a savior. He was calling for some debates. Absent that, there is no reason for Clinton to take questions from the left; there are no competing forces registering and contacting voters in the long primary season.

Progressives don't exactly need or want a Sheldon Adelson of their own to fund a Hillary-slayer. They just want someone willing to take a hit and lose to her, while the press sets up debates that Clinton would look like a coward for dodging. The pincer-attack nature of this means that the donors need only to assure a challenger that he can run a campaign without spending the rest of his life in debt.

*Not a typo. That's when the fun part—debates and early primary state blitzes—takes place. The general assumption is that Clinton will mow down her opponents in early 2016.

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