The auctioning of the presidency

Election observers will long remember the night of the 2012 election when Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News went completely off the rails and challenged the results from Ohio. The Republican propaganda TV channel Fox News had called the state for Obama and this pretty much sealed the election and Mitt Romney’s defeat. Rove’s insistence that something must be wrong resulted in the infamous walk by Megyn Kelly through the halls of the studio and down to the room where the statisticians were to ask them whether they were sure of their call, to which they replied that they were 99% sure and refused to budge.

It was hilarious then and even better now three years later.

I wondered why Rove seemed so agitated that night. His reaction seemed to be more intense than was called for by simply being wrong. An article by Gabriel Sherman says that this was likely because Rove realized that the elaborate con game that he had been running to fleece wealthy donors with guarantees that money could win elections and that he could deliver a Republican victory if they just gave him enough of it. He had collected as much as $300 million from suckers donors on the basis of these promises and the whole scheme was blowing up before his very eyes.

Take the 2012 contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Celebrated political strategist Karl Rove assured a murderers’ row of Republican megadonors that, with enough funding, his super-pac could put Romney in the White House. “I had every expectation we would be the victors,” says Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, who gave half a million dollars to Rove’s American Crossroads. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Crossroads circulated a top-secret presentation to a small group of billionaires that projected Romney could win a “mandate” if they contributed an additional total of $25 million to fund a “surge” of negative ads. A handful ponied up, and on Election Night, they assembled in Boston certain they would be watching their investment pay off.

Instead they watched Rove’s infamous Fox News meltdown as their $117 million grubstake went up in smoke. To many of the billionaires it felt like a mugging. A few days after the election, New York hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb, who’d helped finance Rove’s surge, tried to sue Crossroads and Fox News for misrepresenting the facts. “Loeb felt this was like an investment bank committing fraud on a road show,” a friend of his told me.

As a result of that fiasco Rove has been finding it hard to get people to give him money this time around.

Rove’s 2012 crash is having profound effects on the 2016 Republican primary. To begin with, George W. Bush’s Brain is no longer considered much of a brain. “I gave Rove $500,000. What did I get for it? Nothing!” Langone told me. Two of Rove’s most generous 2012 funders, Texas billionaires Bob Perry and Harold Simmons, have since passed away, and their heirs have turned off the cash spigot. “Everyone is still shocked Romney lost,” says Simmons’s widow, Annette. “I haven’t committed at all.” So far this year, Crossroads has raised just $784,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rove insists he’s still a player. “We’ll be involved in the Senate races,” he told me. “Depending on who the presidential nominee is, we may be involved in that, but that’s a long way off.” What Rove is not is anywhere near the center of the Republican Party. “But for his perch on Fox News, Karl would be in political Siberia,” says a top Republican strategist. “The going joke is that he must have a picture of Roger Ailes in his underwear to keep his contract.”

The billionaires are now preferring to create their own political strategy teams that they can direct how to spend their money. For example, the billionaire Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and a host of other wealthy people are now creating their own SuperPACS and buying their candidates directly rather than bother with the charade of creating front organizations that decide for them. It must be gratifying to them to have candidates now audition for their favors and grovel before them. For a list of which billionaire is backing which candidate (at least back in August), see here. This abuse of democracy has become so blatant that even the establishment press is editorializing about it.

The Republican debate that took place on Tuesday was in a casino owned by Adelson who, it turns out, is the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a fact that he had been trying to keep secret. In an interview, he discussed his purchase.

Described by Forbes magazine as the 15th richest man in the United States, Adelson said his family had bought the paper as a financial investment, dismissing speculation the deal was aimed at controlling media in the United States. “The Review-Journal is already on my side of the political spectrum,” Adelson said.

“This newspaper has been making money… we left the (everyday) operation in the hands of the owner from who we bought it,” said Adelson, whose family has experience of Israeli newspaper ownership and is known for his ardent support of Israel.

“We are not going to hire an editor, we left it up to them (current management), period. We may take some of the positive characteristics of our Israeli newspaper and add them to there but that’s all just suggestions.”

Adelson said he discussed Israel with presidential candidate Trump during their meeting.

“He (Trump) had talked about potentially dividing about Jerusalem and Israel, so I talked about Israel because with our newspaper, my wife being Israeli, we are the few who know more about Israel than people who don’t,” Adelson said.

But Adelson is far from being a hands-off owner that he pretends to be. He is an unabashed supporter of the most extreme policies of the Israeli right wing and already uses the newspapers he owns in that country to pursue them. As a newspaper owner, he pushes his agenda far more vigorously than even Rupert Murdoch does, being described as making them like a “pro-right-wing Pravda”. With his money and now control of the biggest newspaper in Nevada, an early primary state and a key swing state in the general election, he is clearly seeking an outsize influence in the American government and you can be sure that if ‘his’ candidate wins, he will not be shy of demanding a good return on his investment.

Nearly all the Republican candidates have been making obeisance to Adelson in the hope that he will give them his blessing and, more importantly, open his wallet to them. Adelson has been teasing them with promises of money without committing to any one yet. He met with Donald Trump during the debate in Las Vegas and discussed (of course) Israel. Although Trump does not need Adelson’s money as much as the other candidates, it would be in his interest to prevent it going to his rivals. Adelson is clearly impressed by Trump’s lead in the polls and wants to be in his good graces in the event he becomes president.

American presidential elections now resemble cattle auctions.


  1. AndrewD says

    “American presidential elections now resemble cattle auctions.”
    No, Cattle auctions are an honest way to sell cattle, the sale of political favours is neither honest nor good for the USA

  2. parasiteboy says

    Campaign finance reform is one of the main things that I like about Bernie Sanders. I really wish he would talk about this more because it may be a linchpin to the other things that he wants to do.

    Although not about campaign finance specifically, the average voter has little influence over policy.

  3. lorn says

    There is also this:

    I’m not sure if I believe it at face value but it would explain how Rove, and his well financed electoral machine, who systematically engineered the recount and screwed over Gore (not to mention the American people) could be so wrong over a process they thought they had mastered. This is either gross incompetence rooted in deep self delusion and denial, or there was some completely unexpected factor that went completely opposite, and in a very big way, of they way they were sure it would.

    It scrams “the fix is in” when it wasn’t, or Rove bought deeply into his own rhetoric about reality being unimportant. Either way, if it was Anonymous … a very big thanks for saving us from Mittens; if it was a result of mental defect within Rove … may the brain worms be catching within the GOP.

  4. Nick Gotts says

    Cattle auctions are an honest way to sell cattle -- Andrew D@1

    Think about cattle auctions from the POV of the cattle! When an Adelson or Koch buys an American politician, what he offers them is voters, who it is assumed can be pushed into voting the right way by the campaign the oligarch funds, just as auctioned cattle can be transported to the field or slaughterhouse of their new owner.

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