George Soros has been much reviled on the right going back decades. He fought vigorously against Bush’s reelection and a continuation of the neoconservatives’ disastrous Iraq War. Despite the bitter aftertaste of defeat in 2004, George Soros proceeded to direct over $25 million toward the campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2016. He was undoubtedly spurned on by the fact that candidate Trump represented and even explicitly endorsed the antithesis of virtually every principle Mr. Soros holds dear. Unfortunately, his contributions this time too turned out to be for naught. The question arises, will George Soros continue his mega-magnanimity towards Democratic presidential nominees after so many costly losses? Or will he refocus and redouble his efforts to smaller but more effective areas where he has enjoyed a great deal of recent success?
For decades Soros has been the focus of pundits’ scorn due to his seemingly unabashed exertion of influence over national politics. What’s lesser known is that Soros himself is an ardent supporter of campaign finance reform. Indeed, in the Warren Buffett vein of folksy righteousness he’s cited himself as an example of how the system is broken.
That aside, his influence is widespread and widely publicized. But some of his more interesting plays have been decidedly minor league. Recently he’s racked up a hefty winning percentage backing progressive district attorneys in local races around the country. In one case he funded virtually the entire campaign of Democratic candidate Aramis Ayala, a progressive former public defender who ran on the platform of social justice and equality in sentencing. Soros infused almost $1.4 million into her otherwise unfunded campaign. She handily beat her opponent, the incumbent Jeff Ashton. A similar story unfolded in Louisiana when another George Soros funding vehicle backed the campaign of newcomer James Stewart against the district attorney Dhu Thompson. Thompson lost badly and proceeded to complain of “outside meddling” and unfairness. In truth these were major victories for Soros. And they cost him just a tiny fraction of what he donated to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
Many observers note that Soros has quietly begun switching to these quieter, more insurgent-like tactics. Not only has he been on a winning streak with electing prosecutors friendly to his causes but the cost is also relatively small and the benefits are potentially enormous.
And in the case of the prosecutors he isn’t just installing a local elected official. District attorneys have one of the most powerful positions in the US criminal justice system in prosecutorial discretion. They have the power to bring or dismiss charges. In this way a prosecutor can single handedly shape the administration of local justice. Also, once elected many district attorneys go on to serve as state or federal judges. Some even make it to state and federal supreme courts. For a million dollars Soros is getting heck of a lot of value.
It’s said that Soros had a very cordial and close personal relationship with Mrs. Hillary Clinton. As antithetical as Trump is to his worldview, it’s quite possible Soros’ 2016 donations were as much a product of a genuine liking of Mrs. Clinton as they were a repudiation of Trump. The loss of Mrs. Clinton to Trump isn’t just a devastating blow to the progressive program, it marks the second time in just over a decade that a Soros backed candidate has lost. This must give the master philanthropist pause about the opportunity costs of playing high stakes presidential politics and losing.
Whether Soros will continue making mid seven figure bets on big-time politics remains to be seen. But given his huge successes at the local level and his devastating losses at the national one, such an adept tactician could likely be expected to focus on what works.
More information at http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/george-soros/.