So we all got a good look at Art Robinson this week, Republican candidate for the House from Oregon. Robinson lives in a world of wacky ideas, from believing that low-level radiation is good for you to some seriously racist takes on humanity. Don't let his evident kookiness make you miss what's really at stake here, Rachel Maddow said on the show last night:
There was a guy like Art Robinson, I'm guessing, in your town somewhere, maybe on the outskirts of town. I mean, Americans are like this. There are a lot of unusual people in this country and a lot of them who hold very extreme beliefs and who propound interesting theories. It is not even that weird for people like this to run for political office. It's one of the things that folks like this like to do, in my experience, actually. What is really important about Art Robinson is not just how unusual he is as an American or as a candidate.
What is important about Art Robinson is that he is potentially viable this year as a congressional candidate, because an outside group called Concerned Taxpayers of America is running $150,000 worth of advertising to attack his opponent in this rural district in southern Oregon, to make Art Robinson seem totally mainstream, totally electable. Concerned Taxpayers of America doesn't have to tell anybody where the money is from. In their brief filing with the Federal Elections Commission, the Concerned Taxpayers of America helpfully notes nothing about their donors, nothing about where they intend to raise money from. They only note that they intend to "raise funds in unlimited
amounts" -- which they can, of course, spend in unlimited amounts.
Is Art Robinson likely to win this race? No. What if it were $500,000? What if it were $1 million? What if it were $150 million?
There's probably a direct relationship between the kookiness of any given candidate and the amount of money you need to make that candidate seem viable in a congressional election. As the kookiness of the candidate goes up, the amount of money you need to keep that candidate viable goes up, too.
The idea that a candidate is too kooky to be elected is only true in an environment in which there is not unlimited money to be spent to make that person seem less than kooky. But when the money is quite literally unlimited either by actual dollar ceilings or by the shame associated with being seen to donate that money, there is no ceiling on how kooky a candidate can be and still seem electable. As long as the money can go to infinity, so can the kook factor. The chart goes on to infinity and beyond.
This is the new reality of American politics.