Donald Trump (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Citizens United made Donald Trump possible: How the GOP establishment flooded the election with money — and ended up drowning itself

The party of "free markets" welcomed Citizens United, without realizing that the economics of it would doom them


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Marcy Wheeler
April 28, 2016 6:27PM (UTC)

Donald Trump cleaned up on Tuesday night, winning an outright majority in the five northeast states that held presidential primaries. Tuesday's resounding victories brought Trump closer to accruing the 1,237 delegates that will allow him to avoid a convention fight, silencing the chatter of the last few weeks that Trump's extremism might finally slow his progression towards the Republican nomination.

Trump is probably going to win the GOP nomination, folks.

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Meanwhile, Trump's remaining opponents engaged in a number of last minute stunts to try to stop him. For some days, Ted Cruz and John Kasich claimed to have a pact to split up remaining states in hopes they could deny Trump wins in them, and thereby prevent him from getting the delegates to avoid a floor fight. Trump complained it was the kind of collusion that would be illegal for corporations to engage in. "In business you go to jail for that, but it's collusion where they're coming together because they are getting beaten badly," Trump told Sean Hannity. But Kasich, perhaps too honest a capitalist for his own good, soon squelched the notion of getting his supporters to vote for Cruz.

Cruz, meanwhile, loudly vetted and eventually, on Wednesday, made a big production of picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate for a presidential ticket that will never come to be. Cruz seemed to imagine picking a woman -- even if he treated her like the world's greatest failed CEO babysitter when they were rivals-- might give Republican women appalled by Trump's misogynistic bullying a place to turn.

Yet this last ditch effort to stop Trump has simply come far too late to do any good. And there's an underlying, almost delicious irony behind the delay: Citizens United.

One of the things that forestalled a viable Stop Trump movement until the last few weeks is that there was simply too much money sloshing around, permitting candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and even John Kasich to stay in the race long after it was clear they couldn't get the nomination. (It admittedly didn't help that most people hate Ted Cruz, who was the only candidate able to string together more than one or two victories against Trump.) Whereas in previous years, a comparative scarcity of money would have made it easier for the Republican Party to winnow an enormous primary field (and thus heavily influence the outcome), this year the winnowing took months, all the while ensuring the remaining candidates would split opposition to Trump.

There were just too many million- and billionaires willing to dump huge amounts of money into one or several campaigns, and not enough actual voters voting for the candidates those big donors preferred. That meant a lot of non-viable candidates didn't face financial limitations that would normally force them to drop out early. This great pool of money prevented the marketplace for presidential candidates to function as it normally does. And Trump -- who has barely had to dip into his own billions, given his ability to invent new outrages every day and dominate the cable news coverage -- had managed to get by on a series of plurality wins before Tuesday.

The long and the short of it: The Republican are suffering from a market failure.

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Don't get me wrong. The irony of the Republican party drowning under its own unlimited political dollars is a bitter irony. After all, in both parties, big money funders are buying influence that will lead to stupid policies going forward. That great, sloshing sea of money will increasingly prevent average voters from being able to demand sound policies, from their president as well as their members of Congress.

But this week, watching the last dregs of a Republican establishment attempt to stop Trump long after any such attempt might have worked, along with the knowledge that, demographically, it will take a major unforeseen crisis for Trump to beat Hillary, we can take some solace in the fact that the Republicans drowned themselves in unlimited campaign funds and in the process nominated the candidate with the highest negatives ever.


Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler writes at EmptyWheel.net and is the author of "Anatomy of Deceit."

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Citizens United Donald Trump Gop Primary Money In Politics Scotus The Republican Party The Supreme Court

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