Early Returns

It Doesn't Matter Where the Money Comes From

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Georgia's 6th District was always a tough race.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Great reporting from the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis and David Weigel about Democrats grumbling that the national party (that is, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) isn't committing sufficient resources to this year's special elections.

The problem with this sort of talk is that it's kind of nuts. Democrats are doing extremely well in these elections, and the candidates have generally been well funded -- just not from the DCCC. That Democrats nevertheless lost solidly Republican seats (one in Kansas, the at-large Montana seat), will probably lose in South Carolina, and have a close fight on their hands in Georgia's 6th District isn't about failure; it's about degree of difficulty. Democrat Rob Quist did get outspent in Montana, but he and outside groups on his behalf still spent record-breaking amounts. It's just that Republicans still outspent them. Regardless, everything we know about elections suggests that diminishing marginal returns had probably set in, and even a substantial additional contribution from formal party organizations or anyone else wouldn't have been enough to close the 6-percentage-point gap there. 

The real story about these special elections, on the Democratic side, is how good the Democratic Party -- both in formal organizations and the larger party network -- has been at mobilizing resources. It's a very good thing for the Democrats (and especially liberal ones), not a flaw, that groups such as Daily Kos Elections have been highly effective. If that means that money flows through those groups as much or more than through the DCCC, there's no reason to consider that a problem. 

Newly mobilized activists on both sides of the aisle simply have a mistaken notion of the importance of the national formal party organizations. It's not that they're irrelevant, or that they should never be criticized, but for the most part they are -- and always have been -- far less central to the overall party than many seem to think. 

1. "Despite holding unified control of government, the party is simply unequipped for serious policy-making -- a deficiency for which Trump is both cause and symptom." That's Dave Hopkins on the mess the Republican Party has made of itself. I don't quite agree with everything in this piece; I continue to think Donald Trump was more of a fluke allowed by Republican dysfunction than a logical candidate who won because of his electoral strengths. But it's a very good item. Highly recommend.

2. Kelly M. McFarland at the Monkey Cage on the Marshall Plan

3. Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction on Trump's climate decision as a story of party factions. 

4. Bruce Riedel at Brookings reports that the arms deal Trump trumpeted on his trip to Saudi Arabia is ... well, pretty much just fiction

5. Leah Litman at Take Care on Trump's travel ban tweets

6. And my Bloomberg View colleague Megan McArdle with a nice one defending, more or less, partisanship and the reasoning that goes with it. I'd put it this way: That's how it's supposed to work, and sometimes does. But it only works when partisans hold themselves and their "side" to high standards; when any old smear will do, then the incentives to get it right fade, and that's what has produced the Republican-specific problems Hopkins talks about in the first item above -- despite, that is, plenty of Republican policy folks who are absolutely first-rate and, yes, some Democrats who are doing their best to create perverse incentives on their own side. 

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.