Ron Klain wonders what happens when bloggers speak truth without power in his New York Times blogpost. Klain focuses on the Democratic race, where blogger favorites Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd (whom he doesn’t mention) all sank without much of a fight:
The ultimate measure of this shift of influence [towards the blogs] came this summer, when virtually every Democratic candidate for president attended the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, and skipped the annual convention of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council in Nashville.
But notwithstanding this stunning success, this week’s withdrawal by John Edwards, coming a week after the departure of Dennis Kucinich, means that both of the preferred presidential candidates of the liberal blogosphere are now out of the race. Instead, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the two candidates who have drawn some of the sharpest criticism on progressive blogs, are the only ones who will make it to Super Tuesday. A similar thing happened in 2004, when Howard Dean and Wes Clark, the two candidates most strongly backed by blogs, were beaten by John Kerry, who wasn’t a blog favorite.
The blogosphere has had impressive electoral success in Senate and House races, especially in 2006. But at the presidential level, while the blogosphere has been effective in changing the political debate and the party’s direction, it has been less successful in helping its preferred candidates to victory. Why?
I’d challenge Klain on a number of his assumptions. First, I see no evidence that the blogosphere has had “impressive electoral success” anywhere. The high-water mark came in 2006, when Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman in the primary, only to get thumped in the general election by the same opponent running an independent campaign. Where are the wins involving candidates that weren’t already backed by party establishment? And while Markos Moulitsas deserves a great deal of credit for the Yearly Kos convention, it is a political truth that politicians will attend the opening of a wallet anywhere it happens.
Klain doesn’t mention Republicans in this post, but it applies to conservative bloggers as well. Fred Thompson had tremendous support in the Rightosphere, but that made little difference in his ultimate fate in the primaries. No one has on-line support like Ron Paul, and so far that has translated to nothing more than single-digit support in the primaries. Huckabee had a burst of blog support as well, but has lost momentum since his win in Iowa.
The blogosphere has influence, of course, but mainly on policy and not on candidate campaigns. They also can help raise money, but not usually in the kind of amounts that give them king-making power, a gap that Lamont’s flop in November 2006 aptly demonstrated. Even with the 10-1 advantage in fundraising between the progressive bloggers and conservative bloggers, the actual amounts came to a pittance in the overall totals among the Congressional candidates.
Why do bloggers succeed on policy — say, with porkbusting, immigration, and other issues — and not with candidacies? The answer is actually very apparent. Blogs do best at dicussing ideas, delving into detail and utilizing rhetoric to motivate and to persuade. The candidates have to sell themselves. Blogs don’t do much as surrogates in those efforts, and as history shows, have a very poor track record in elevating any but the most already-elevated candidates.
Blogs aren’t irrelevant in elections. However, they do best in enlightening people on policy, which secondarily may boost candidates who champion them.