A political campaign has become an essential part of the political process in the United States and most other democratic states across the world. Political campaigns provide voters with the necessary information about candidates, so they can make their choice on a person who can represent them in Congress or become the President of the United States. Initially, those organizations are meant to be temporary with the aim of communicating the ideas of parties to the public before the election. However, the competition for the office tends to continue after the election is over; hence, there is a need for permanent campaigns.
The organization of permanent political campaigns is complex, with national committees such as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) at the top level. Those committees coordinate all national campaigns, including those for the President. Mainly, the information about the candidates is presented to the audience through media and public events such as speeches, debates, and interviews.
In addition, it includes such formats as advertisements in the newspapers, direct mail, press releases, news coverage, and, in the present day through social media and e-mail. There are two particular aspects of political campaigns – they are long, and they are expensive. The following paper argues that although there are negative implications towards permanent campaigning, it remains to be an integral part of the American political system and is good for American democracy.
What is a Permanent Campaign?
The term permanent campaign is a political science concept that reflects a phenomenon that characterizes American politics over the last three to four decades. After an official is elected to office, the next campaigning starts on the day after the preceding election. This applies to the members of Congress because it is shorthand for using government policy to develop and retain public approval by politicians when they seek to establish their power the White House and Congress. The term is also commonly used by campaign consultants, academics, candidates, and the media to help describe a deep-seated political pattern in a modern democracy.
In permanent campaigns, there are two different distinct types. One type of campaign is to attain reelection in the state or district. The second type is for control of the chamber. Permanent campaigns are caused by politicians interested in reelection and willing to spend money, time, and other resources to increase the chances of being elected for the next term. The phenomenon of this term is that each year, and for each election, permanent campaigns get more sophisticated and more resource-demanding.
This is caused by increased competition and technological advancements, which provide more instruments to communicate the message to the public, making the campaign as extensive and versatile as possible. Permanent campaigning poses a challenge to the election officials that want to be re-elected as they have to spend more and more time and effort campaigning instead of the legislature and governing.
Examples of Permanent Campaigns
The term permanent campaign originated in the 1970s by Patrick Caddell and later by journalist Sidney Blumenthal. They both noticed how presidents such as Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter and other office candidates had started to develop long-term strategies for their reelection (Blumenthal 41). Nevertheless, Bill Clinton was the first president with a permanent campaign. In his permanent campaign, he promoted his agenda established custom-designed war rooms to promote public policies such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). He also worked budget priorities in healthcare reform and built broad coalitions among interest groups, and used grassroots tactics to make policies more understandable to the public. This helped Clinton to push his public policies, hence, developing a reputation for the next election.
George W. Bush
George W. Bush continued with his permanent campaign, although he criticized Clinton during the 2000 election. During Bush’s first year in the office, the passage of a large tax decrease, increase in defense expenditures, making new budget priorities, and the movement towards a bipartisan education bill were the things that shaped his permanent campaign. The terrorist attack that happened on September 11, 2001, reshaped the way communications strategies were used. In particular, the utilization of war rooms and message politics in the Congress was extended (Alaimo). This is because the tragedy emphasized the importance of communication in the 24-hour seven-day-a-week world.
Another remarkable thing about George W. Bush’s permanent campaign is the broad utilization of presidential travel. The aim of such trips was to engage the public in the electorally important states. Over the course of three years of his presidency, Bush embarked on 417 domestic trips. When compared to Bill Clinton’s first three years, this number is 114 travels more (Alaimo). In addition, the 16 targeted states were the ones where the margin during the 2000 election was the closest; hence Bush was committed to establishing his leading positions in those states for higher chances of reelection.
The modern development of the permanent campaign concept can be seen in the approach used by Donald Trump. After winning the 2016 presidential election, Trump commenced an informal reelection campaign, hence making a statement that the permanent campaign was inevitable during his presidency. On the day Donald Trump took his office, he prepared everything for his 2020 reelection committee (Hart 22). Trump’s image of a successful public figure and businessman allowed him to be versatile and effective in his campaign. One of the remarkable things was the extensive use of online advertisements on social media.
Negative Aspects of Permanent Campaigning
Campaigning is known to be both lengthy and expensive, hence involving special interest parties, which fund the candidates for the office. For instance, the 2008 presidential campaign, cost $3 billion to democratic and republican candidates. During the next election of 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent about $1 billion each, and sponsors further spent $4 billion (Alaimo). Congressional races are not as expensive; however, the combined cost is not much different from presidential campaigns because they are held more often. For example, cost of the combined congressional races in 2008 reached the number of about one billion dollars.
This reliance on funding was noticed long before the recent campaigns, and hence, the financial rules and regulations for political races were put in place. Financial aspects of campaigning raised concern in public as it raised the potential for corruption. Interest groups can make campaign contributions, which, if not regulated, could affect the political process. Hence, in order to prevent it, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (Alaimo). It was the first regulation, which limited campaign contributions and funding. The limits posed by the Federal Election Campaign act were later refined by court decisions and the McCain-Feingold Campaign Law 2002, in particular. Since then, the legal rationale for the limitations of campaign donations was provided.
However, those rules and regulations found their opposition. For instance, the most the case Buckley v. Valeo had promoted the limitations of campaign contribution violated the First Amendment because one’s freedom of expression was exercised by means of funding a politician, which would represent one’s political opinion. Nevertheless, the limits were set as one individual could spend no more than $2500 per candidate (Alaimo).
In addition, contributions to party committee were limited to $28,500 (Alaimo). The legislation was further reformed by the Citizens United decision, which extended the limits and functions of Supers PACs (Political Action Committees) (Alaimo). There were no limitations for PACs to raise and spend funds for promoting a candidate or publicizing a cause. Yet, it cannot be considered that they are meant specifically for the candidate. Finally, there are no limitations of individual spending by candidates on their electoral races, which creates opportunities for self-funded candidates.
Permanent campaigns, as well as temporary campaigns before the election, heavily rely on funding. Except, the candidates who are seeking to be re-elected have the advantage of receiving additional publicity and attention because of their access to the media as governors. This evokes reflections on the power of money in politics. On the one hand, the parties that are running the permanent campaign always have to be on the outlook for funding and maintaining balance, so funders do not influence the political process. On the other hand, limiting the number of donations means that candidates have to communicate with a larger audience, who can make a smaller donation but in a more considerable quantity. This idea corresponds with the concept of democracy, but still, candidates have to spend more time and effort on raising their campaign budget instead of governing and legislating.
There are other notable issues associated with permanent campaigning, which are important to mention. One of such factors is the development of candidate individualism. It is one of the dominant factors in the campaigning scene. Even though parties finance campaign consultants, candidates remain to be the main leaders of their own campaigns. Secondly, the well-funded system of interest group politics is the source of attack tactics for advertising. They provide an opportunity for a large amount of money for the campaigner put towards defeating candidates that are not in support of interest group policy preferences.
Third, the fact that new communication technologies are coming out every day can affect the candidate’s potential for running a campaign. Media specialists, television, the internet, grassroots professionals, and modern politics are all involved in the campaign. Thus, they are not only able to defeat candidates but also change the mind of other politicians about public policies. For many campaign consultants, media specialists, and campaign funding experts, the utilization of advanced campaign techniques is common. Those strategies apply attack tactics and can eventually destroy a candidate’s opponents by using their own funds to control the main message of the campaign.
After focusing on the phenomenon of the permanent campaign and issues associated with that, it is important to note the direct role of different political branches and functions of the President and Congress. It is necessary to do in order to track the effectiveness of the effort and resources spent on electoral concerns on the direct responsibilities of each party. While the role of Congress is relatively steady, the role of the President is going to be analyzed more deeply because permanent campaigning offers a shift towards President’s functions.
The primary functions of Congress include performing oversight, lawmaking, educating the public, aiding constituents, and representing the people. Congress pays close attention to the votes they cast because of their responsibility and role towards representing the people and performing oversight duties. According to the Trustee Representation, the people are responsible for selecting a representative whose opinion and experience they convict. Congress votes for what is considered right. Congress formulates laws that influence people’s daily lives through legislative debate and compromise. Therefore, any vote cast needed to be accounted for and monitored carefully. Congress is also responsible for holding hearings aimed at informing the legislative process and serving as a voice of the people.
Difficulty Presidents Have to Live to Public Expectations
The public has expectations about political institutions, the Congress, and President. Such expectations may arise and manifest in the form of fuzzy images of the government or from ideological perspectives or concern the attributes of particular actions or events. The responsibility of commander in chief is an overwhelming presidential task that has continuously grown in demand. A president’s capacity to execute his or her duties is compromised by the crisis-by-crisis operation, undermining the ability of any president to live up to public expectations. The emotional burden of presidential responsibilities is a major hindrance towards meeting public expectations.
The President ought to endure the relentless scrutiny of the digital era. There are responsibilities to honor the soldiers who died and support their families and on the same day, the President might have to congratulate to winners of some sports international tournament. For instance, the President also has to develop a legislative agenda for the Congress. However, they have limited powers to achieve the majority of the set goals. For example, the majority of the responsibilities that vex Trump were not in the initial job design (Hart 12). The expectations and responsibilities have accrued to the presidency over time. The country today is considered a president-obsessed nation such that the public undermines the very idea of constitutional democracy.
Permanent Campaigning and its Contribution to Democracy
For the past few decades, campaigning for re-election has often been associated with governing itself, suggesting the gradual merging of those aspects. This is because the democratic political system relies on the elections; hence, government structures are aware of the consequences their actions will have on the electoral results. Therefore, campaigning became integrated into the democratic government as it manifests itself in two ways.
The first one refers to the accountability that the elected official has for the promises that he or she made before. The second way refers to the way elected officials’ actions and public reaction to them influence the outcomes of the next elections. The combination of those factors creates a cycle of accountability and dependency between campaigning and governing. Hence, promise-making during the election campaign increases the chances of getting a place at the office, and promise keeping during the governing period ensures that democratic principles are followed.
In addition, permanent campaigning is associated with the active participation of government officials in promoting their political agenda to the largest possible amount of people. It can be done either through frequent traveling to the border states or by applying digital technologies, as can be seen in the latest campaigns by Donald Trump (Hart 18). Regardless of the media, the public and the democratic system benefits from the permanent campaigning because over the larger periods, the bigger number of people are familiarized with their candidates. This helps the public to make a more informed decision, which essentially corresponds with the democratic principle.
In conclusion, the permanent campaign has become an integral part of the political process in the United States. It has both positive and negative effects on the political system and democratic principles. As for the positive aspects, permanent campaigning can be considered as a factor, which contributes to the adherence of democracy. This is achieved because of the policies, which limit the campaign contributions.
Hence candidates have to engage a larger audience to ensure proper funding of their electoral program. By doing this for a long time, such as in the case of a permanent campaign, more people have a chance to familiarize themselves with the candidates and their agendas and make more informed decisions. Secondly, permanent campaigning is often pursued by officials that aim at being re-elected. Hence, the chances of them being elected for the second time correlate with keeping promises that they have made during the initial campaign that made them elected. This enhances officials’ accountability and the representative principle of a political system.
On the contrary, there is a number of adverse effects that permanent campaigning has on the governing and the political system in general. First of all, campaigns are becoming more and more extensive in length, coverage, and the variety of instruments and specialists engaged in it. As a result, rallying becomes more expensive, which poses a concern in the long-term perspective. Politicians who are interested in being re-elected become more focused on the funding of their permanent campaign. This results in the involvement of special interests’ parties who can cooperate with the candidates.
In addition, while politicians spend their time and resources on campaigning, they spend less time on legislation and governing, which is the initial reason why they were elected. Due to that, there is a tendency of a gradual merge of permanent campaigning with governing. In addition, while the competition becomes more intense, the utilization of advanced campaigning techniques involving well-funded interest groups encompasses aggressive strategies aimed at eliminating opponents and their reputation. This can possibly lead to the destabilization of society on purpose to act in favor of one of the candidates.
Overall, the phenomenon of permanent campaigns is a relatively new issue in American politics. The policies and court decisions that regulate aspects of campaigning, such as funding and contributions’ limits, are developed as the public attention is brought to the issue. Therefore, although there are still some negative aspects to permanent campaigning, in general, it is good for the political system as it adheres to democratic principles. Any possible violations, which could occur in the future will be addressed by the future policies regarding the matter. Hence, it is safe to conclude that a permanent political campaign is a good thing for American democracy.
Alaimo, Kara. “Measuring the boundaries of America’s permanent campaign.” Journal of Public Affairs vol. 17 no. 4, 2017, e1682. Web.
Blumenthal, Sidney. The permanent campaign. Simon & Schuster, 1982.
Hart, Roderick P. “Why Trump lost and how? A rhetorical explanation.” American Behavioral Scientist, 2021. Web.