When you think about grassroots small-dollar political fundraising, you generally figure the best-positioned beneficiaries are charismatic figures like Beto O’Rourke or “movement” leaders like Bernie Sanders (or those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are both). That still seems to be true on the left.
But among House Republicans, a different dynamic seems to be in play, as the dominant small-dollar fundraisers are highly controversial figures you probably wouldn’t want in your living room.
As the Daily Beast reports (subscription required), three House Republicans are hoovering up an estimated 80 percent of under-$200 donations:
We examined first-quarter fundraising numbers for every incumbent on the Cook Political Report’s list of competitive 2020 House races — 52 Democrats and 35 Republicans in all. [Devin] Nunes, [Steve] King, and [Duncan] Hunter are the only congressmen of either party who got more than half of all their individual contributions in Q1 in the form of unitemized donations, or donations of less than $200.
It seems that rank-and-file GOP activists have a refined taste for attack-dog conspiracy theorists like Nunes, racists like King, and corruption suspects like Hunter.
Nunes is by far the most prolific small-dollar fundraiser of the candidates we examined. He’s become a household name among the GOP grassroots for his strident support of President Trump as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. And the bulk of his huge first-quarter small-dollar haul came through fundraising appeals invoking his longshot lawsuit against Twitter and a number of his parodic detractors on the platform.
King, for his part, has a committed grassroots following among voters who don’t mind that he has played footsie with white supremacy. And Hunter is currently under federal indictment over allegations that he misused campaign funds, but has managed to turn that into a fundraising pitch that portrays him as a victim of a liberal conspiracy.
King, of course, is in a class of his own as a wingnut pariah, having been stripped of his committee assignments by a House GOP leadership that tolerates a lot of dodgy racially tinged rhetoric. As he battles a primary challenge, he retains the loyal support of many conservative activists. Hunter is just one of those periodic scofflaws who tries to cover his ethical lapses by claiming politically motivated persecution. And Nunes’s appeal is a testament to the emotional power of intense, take-no-prisoners partisan polarization.
Perhaps in time House Republican celebrities will emerge who are beloved for their ideas or their sound character or their leadership qualities. But for now, being a bad boy is the ticket.