What’s Happening to the Republican Party?

by Henry on October 15, 2010

A lot of US-based bloggers are speculating about who is going to win or lose in the Congressional mid-terms. Myself, I’ve nothing much to add to that discussion. What’s more interesting to me is the potential transformation happening within the Republican Party. Parties – like most other organizations in advanced industrial democracies – depend on money. And it’s pretty clear that the sources of fundraising are changing. Take a look at this Sunlight Foundation post on the balance between spending by traditional party committees and by outside groups. Or just look at the key graphs.

2006 spending by outside groups and by party committees

Spending in 2010 by party committees and outside groups


Then consider the fact that Sharron Angle apparently raised $14 million in the last quarter, mostly from donations of less than $100. The electoral consequences of this may be debatable. What is not debatable is that a world in which crazy-sounding Republican candidates can raise this kind of money from small donations is very different from a world in which they can’t (see also, albeit less spectacular, Christine O’Donnell’s fundraising ).

Here’s the nub as I see it. The Republican Party over the last couple of decades has been a coalition between powerful businessmen, who often didn’t care that much about social issues, but did care about reducing regulation, getting handouts etc, and conservatives, a not-insubstantial portion of whom are batshit crazy. The businessmen provided the money, while the conservatives (crazy and non-crazy) provided the shock troops. This coalition was managed through means such as Grover Norquist’s Wednesday breakfast meeting.

Now the Republican Party is changing, because it is being hit with two simultaneous shocks. The first is Citizens United, which makes it much easier for business to pour money into the electoral process without any real accountability. The second is the advent of new forms of small-donor fundraising, which are both more efficient than the mailing-list model that Richard Viguerie pioneered in a previous generation, and less easy for party grandees to control. The interesting question for me is which of these is likely to prevail over the other. Citizens United suggests the continued – and perhaps increased – dominance of big money in electoral politics. The proliferation of Tea Party candidates, and of small-donor fundraising mechanisms that may be escaping the control of either the Republican party or business suggests the dominance of conservative activists.

You can see arguments for both cases. On the one hand, most of the dominant outside groups seem to be business-as-usual, and dominated by traditional figures like Karl Rove, who are highly experienced at mediating tensions. On the other, Rove was forced into a humiliating climbdown when he questioned the electability of Christine O’Donnell (a candidate who is clearly not the one that business friendly Republicans wanted, even apart from her electability issues – business likes deregulation, but it likes policy stability even more).

At the least, the institutions that constitute the Republican party are getting looser. This may have consequences in elections down the road, where Republicans do not have as favorable an environment as they do today. There are reasons why the Obama campaign in 2008 tried to clamp down on spending by friendly independent groups- it makes it harder to coordinate, to communicate a common message etc. But it’s also highly plausible that the internal tensions of the Republican coalition will increase. The conservative activists within the Tea Party look isolationist on foreign policy (scaring neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol). They are probably not especially keen on free trade either (which leads to worries for Republican-friendly business). And a less centralized Republican party will be less easily able to manage these tensions than a more decentralized one, in which dissenters have independent financial and organizational resources to draw upon. It could be that all of this is resolved (if e.g. corporate money simply swamps grassroot donations and energy over the longer term, and at the primary level as well as in elections. It could be, as some argue, that this is an illusion and that the Tea Party are mere puppets of big business (I don’t think this is true myself – even if Koch, Armey etc helped get things started, they don’t look to me as though they are in control – but I could be wrong). But I’m cautiously betting myself on substantially increased tensions within the party, and perhaps even a fracturing of the underlying coalition over the next few years. Counterarguments welcome.

Update: As I noted in the original post, TPM suggested that most of Angle’s $14 million might not have been spent in useful ways. Looks like that’s confirmed.

{ 83 comments }

1

Jurgen Stizmuller 10.15.10 at 9:46 pm

Jon Ralston of LV Sun tweets that Angle spent $12 million to raise that $14 million.

2

Cryptic Ned 10.15.10 at 9:48 pm

I think 6 months from now the Republican oligarchs who thought there would be a problem if “business-friendly” candidates lost their primaries to “populist” candidates are going to be wondering what on earth they were worried about.

3

Steve LaBonne 10.15.10 at 9:53 pm

I’m afraid I’ll take Cryptic Ned’s side of this bet.

4

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.15.10 at 10:04 pm

Wasn’t the so-called “class of ’94” also seen as revolutionary and dangerously idealistic? I’m sure the first $50K junket to the Bahamas puts an end to it.

5

cyn 10.15.10 at 10:42 pm

First of all, until the Republicans control both congress *and* the presidency, mutual hatred of the Democrats in power will be sufficient to paper over the internal contradictions of the coalition.

The test case will be if the next big financial crisis hits while Republicans are in power, and how the tea party reacts to the subsequent bailout. I’m pretty sure the tea party will fight against the bailout, and I’m really not sure how they are going to react when they loose that battle.

6

Keith 10.15.10 at 11:12 pm

Those Populist outsiders who can’t be bought into the fold of the mainstream, business-friendly GOP will be shut out of committees, marginalized and the skeletons danced out of their closets. By next election cycle, they’ll be a distant memory. The GOP is good at doing one thing: keeping the soldiers in line. They either bring the radicals to heal or bury them.

7

Brett Bellmore 10.15.10 at 11:40 pm

They’ve been so good at it, in fact, that they’re one election cycle away from having their base abandon them for a third party.

8

Joe S. 10.16.10 at 12:06 am

Ah, Brett, from your lips to God’s ear.

I do want to point out that it is a bit too simplistic to decompose the Republican Party into oligarchs and conservatives. The oligarchs are a fairly cohesive force, but the “conservatives” are not. They consist of a bunch of people, most of whom hate each other: hard libertarians, Taliban, fuck-you boys, paleocons and neocons at very least. But all groups give each group what they most want. The hard libertarians get proper ideology, the Talibs get proper theology, the fuck-you boys proper nihilism, the neocons all kinds of wog-bashing, and the oligarchs money. Note that only the neocons and oligarchs get hard consideration for their loyalty. But the other groups seem happy with the right symbols.

9

Lemuel Pitkin 10.16.10 at 12:20 am

I’m cautiously betting myself on substantially increased tensions within the party, and perhaps even a fracturing of the underlying coalition over the next few years.

Or in other words, a conservative crackup.

People have been predicting a falling out between the religious right and the business supporters of the GOP for at least 20 years now. The question at this point isn’t whether it’s happening, but why it’s obviously not.

10

Pete 10.16.10 at 12:38 am

The same factors which prevent third party splintering on the left prevent it on the right. The right will still be the Republican Party, even if it’s the victim of a tea party coup.

11

Stuart 10.16.10 at 12:42 am

The most you are likely to get every now and then is a third party splinter that divides the vote and causes a disaster for the party it is most closely aligned to, and then everyone gets back together again having learned their lesson…for a couple of election cycles.

12

Jim Harrison 10.16.10 at 1:01 am

For most of American history, southern and Applachian whites have proven themselves to be world-class tools. I don’t see any reason to believe they won’t continue to support the interests that oppress them.

13

Bruce Wilder 10.16.10 at 1:42 am

Glen Beck is getting ready to sing hosanna, as Mitt Romney rides into the New Jerusalem on a mule disguised as a White Horse, to save the Constitution from the progressives, liberals and other assorted nazi islamofascist scum.

No one will warn ol’ Mitt, what happens on the Friday after.

14

David 10.16.10 at 2:20 am

@Cryptic Ned: I don’t see this at all. Paul, in a senate race, is the only batshit crazy candidate likely to take a seat. I think the house will be a wash.

15

Satyricon 10.16.10 at 2:26 am

I think with America’s ongoing income polarization, eventually the oligarchs will win out. The Tea Partiers are throwing a lot of cash into this election ($100/each, e.g., is a lot on a midwestern, working-class budget) because of their pent-up frustration, but I can’t see them sustaining it.

16

Davis X. Machina 10.16.10 at 3:06 am

Apparently the current climate makes buying, rather than renting, a bargain.

17

Lemuel Pitkin 10.16.10 at 3:07 am

No one will warn ol’ Mitt, what happens on the Friday after.

What happens on Friday? Business as usual.

I guess the divide here is between those who think the priority is to prevent the status quo from being overthrown by the populist Right, and those who think the real problem is precisely that the status quo isn’t going anywhere.

You really don’t need to read much about the Tea Parties to realize that the business elite has the reins very firmly in hand.

18

idlemind 10.16.10 at 5:40 am

Well, I for one thought Bruce won the internets with his allusion. And I think ol’ Mitt actually would wind up crucified, since I don’t think the money side of the Republican Party trusts him one bit.

19

ejh 10.16.10 at 7:45 am

And when he winds up crucified, he’ll just have to go back to being influential and rich.

20

Phil 10.16.10 at 9:24 am

Jon Ralston of LV Sun tweets that Angle spent $12 million to raise that $14 million.

Marc Ambinder writes:

we know now that Angle’s $14 million came a a cost. Specifically: about $12 million. That’s how her campaign cost — an unfathomable percentage.

Um, 85.714285 recurring, actually. (Maybe he meant to call it an irrational percentage?)

21

Alex 10.16.10 at 10:50 am

Politics isn’t expensive enough that you need the real support of a cross-section of big business. A couple of rich old crazies will do – and they aren’t going to say things like “actually, can you stop demonising our customers” or “you know, the roads are falling apart – do something about it” or “leave off those immigrants, we need them”.

It’s the Rove strategy applied to money – you only need 51% of the people who actually come to the polls, so the important thing is to reduce the turnout and rile up the base. The total and unconditional support of your ideological allies is better than the limited and conditional support of the centre. This works until you alienate literally everyone else.

To recap, the Kochs, Murdoch, and a couple of other well-known oil billionaires can find enough cash to finance the movement. Therefore you don’t actually need the “business Republicans”, you just need them not to change sides en masse. Ideally, you want to project such cynicism and stupidity that they either avoid taking part in politics at all, or else split the ticket and donate small amounts to both sides.

The 51% framework explains it all. It’s the Leninist vanguard party, in fact – what matters above all is ideological purity and internal discipline. In an operating environment of division and demobilisation, there’s a premium on acting as a solid block.

(Also, if Sharron Angle’s donation drive cost $14m to raise $12m, the obvious question is where the original $14m came from and why she wanted to lose $2m converting it from bulk donations to retail donations. The ongoing Karachi affair in France is relevant.)

22

Alex 10.16.10 at 10:53 am

(Actually, I’ve just noticed that it was the other way round – a net gain of $2m. I think the point still holds up that this is at least a potential donation laundering process.)

23

musical mountaineer 10.16.10 at 3:12 pm

Well, at least I don’t see anyone on this thread insisting that the Tea Party is astroturf. So that’s progress. Also I note that you are beginning to see that Republican != conservative != Tea Party. But you’ll need to further break your old habits of categorization and conflation, if you want to know what’s going on.

To begin with, Democrats are, if anything, more “business-friendly” than Republicans. They just happen to be union-friendly at the same time. But really, both parties play the exact same game with their private-sector partners in crime. Take the banks whose sloppy bookkeeping and frankly criminal practices have probably brought on the end of civilization. Neither Republicans nor Democrats really want to fix the system or punish wrongdoing, they all just want a cut of the action, higher taxes no matter what, and personal aggrandizement. The Republicans operate by publicly defending the banks, with the implicit threat that their support will be withdrawn if the banks don’t reciprocate with bribes and political contributions. The Democrats operate by publicly excoriating the banks, with the implicit promise that they’ll never really do anything about it so long as the banks keep up the bribes and political contributions. At the moment, actual reform isn’t even on the horizon. Democrats are paying the banks millions just to cover the banks’ labor cost of helping themselves to billions more. In return, the banks quietly bury the evidence of government malfeasance where FOIA can’t get at it. Way to get tough!

As the Tea Party hacks (that’s a verb) at the roots of the GOP with primary victories over GOP incumbents, again and again we’ve seen the beaten incumbent either run a hopeless spoiler campaign, or just come out and endorse the Democrat. This wouldn’t be happening if Republicans’ and Democrats’ interests weren’t basically aligned.

It will be interesting, probably in the Confucian-curse sense, to see what the Tea Party does with the levers of power. I predict some of them will express bewilderment, like a hayseed in a big-city whorehouse, when the lobbyists come running with their inducements. A few will succumb. But this movement just may derail the gravy train and put government as we know it out of business for a long time. Survivors of the civilizational shock may have cause to be glad.

24

Cryptic Ned 10.16.10 at 3:22 pm

What?

25

Steve LaBonne 10.16.10 at 3:52 pm

Well, at least I don’t see anyone on this thread insisting that the Tea Party is astroturf.

Then let me be the first. It’s a joint production of the Kochs and Murdoch. The Kochs have stopped even trying very hard to deny it.

26

Barry 10.16.10 at 3:52 pm

Seconding Cryptic Ned’s first post, and adding that the oligarchs have the advantage of keeping people on hand full-time between elections – they can keep on eye on the details that matter, and make sure that the right clauses are put into the right bills.

27

musical mountaineer 10.16.10 at 5:55 pm

What?

Here’s what:

I think 6 months from now the Republican oligarchs who thought there would be a problem if “business-friendly” candidates lost their primaries to “populist” candidates are going to be wondering what on earth they were worried about.

I bet you’re wrong about that. If by “Republican oligarchs” you mean high muckety-mucks in the GOP establishment, well, you’re right out to lunch. But I think you’d agree those people have excellent reason to be terrified. If you mean what I think you mean, that politically-connected corporate big-shots have nothing to fear from the free-market, low-tax, capitalist-loving Tea Party, you’re merely wrong.

Deregulation and reduced taxation are only one side of the free-market coin. The other side is sharp competition, nonexistent subsidies, and a much higher potential for epic business failure. Truly free markets pose an existential threat to this oligarchy you’re on about. The biggest of the corporate bigs are most anxious to have A Friend In Government, to protect their markets from profit-reducing competition, subsidize their otherwise unsustainable business models, and bail them out when they fuck up. Many of these titans of industry are better described as Democrat oligarchs than Republican, by the way, but as I keep saying it makes no difference. They curry favor with whomever is in charge, ideology being no consideration to anyone involved. Surely you needn’t strain too hard to think of several major corporations, and even whole market sectors whose bottom line is underwritten by the government in various ways. Their “profits” are collected by the IRS and delivered by the Feds. The Tea Party would throw them all to the sharks.

28

marcel 10.16.10 at 6:15 pm

And a less centralized Republican party will be less easily able to manage these tensions than a more decentralized one, in which dissenters have independent financial and organizational resources to draw upon.

Huh?

29

mds 10.16.10 at 6:58 pm

So, we have a populist right whose candidates want to give deficit-ballooning tax cuts to the richest Americans, eliminate the minimum wage, end unemployment insurance, destroy Social Security, make health insurance more expensive, dismantle the last vestiges of the regulatory apparatus protecting ordinary citizens from the depredations of corporations, and, when the phase of the moon is right, revoke birthright citizenship and the direct election of US senators. And the oligarchs are threatened by this platform … why, exactly? Teabaggers wouldn’t know classical right-wing populism if it landed squarely in the baskets of all their Medicare-provided motorized scooters. Here’s a hint, guys: if you’re cheering for the cross of gold, you’re doing it wrong.

30

Brett Bellmore 10.16.10 at 8:00 pm

“As the Tea Party hacks (that’s a verb) at the roots of the GOP with primary victories over GOP incumbents, again and again we’ve seen the beaten incumbent either run a hopeless spoiler campaign, or just come out and endorse the Democrat. This wouldn’t be happening if Republicans’ and Democrats’ interests weren’t basically aligned.”

And there you have what’s really behind the tea party movement: The recognition of the Republican base that the people running the Republican party are more in alignment, philosophically, with the people running the Democratic party, than they are with their own party’s base. And have to be replaced, wholesale, if elections are to mean anything in the country again. (Fat lot of good elections do you, if both people on the ballot agree about everything that matters.)

The only reason the Tea party isn’t organized as a real third party at the moment, (Aside from some false flag operations organized by the DNC,) is that it’s also plainly obvious that our election laws have been deliberately crafted to make third party efforts futile. So, it’s take over an existing party from within, or nothing.

Granted, the Republican branch of the nation’s one real party, the Incumbent Party, is waging a desperate effort to co-opt the tea party movement. That’s not quite the same thing as it being astroturf, as the incumbents losing primary elections demonstrate.

31

geo 10.16.10 at 8:19 pm

it’s also plainly obvious that our election laws have been deliberately crafted to make third party efforts futile

Well, Brett, it’s a pleasure to agree with you wholeheartedly about something. What should we do about our election laws?

32

Natilo Paennim 10.16.10 at 8:29 pm

I think it might be instructive to look at other intra-party tendencies of the recent past, such as the anti-abortion movement and the environmental movement. Each is associated mostly with one party, each has enough clout to occasionally effect a small change in policy, and each sees its larger aims frustrated again and again. There’s certainly a fair amount of money behind each tendency, from both institutional and individual sources. And yet, somehow, the status quo still manages to keep chugging along. Long before the Tea Party was a gleam in the Kochs’ eye, the US-Mexico border was being militarized. And it will continue to be, whether or not the Tea Party comes into any semblance of power, because there’s too much money at stake not to continue. The low-tax/high-fee/low-service model of government also predates the founding of the Tea Party by a good long time. It’s horrible in many ways, but people seem to want it. Take out those two issues, and what do you have left for the Tea Partiers to organize around? Gay marriage? Toughness on “terrorism”? Not having a black president? The Tea Party is just as easily manipulated and sidelined as the environmentalists and the baby-slavers. It may continue to be a useful organizing tool for Republicans, but it’s not pushing the country in any direction that it wasn’t already going.

33

Cryptic Ned 10.16.10 at 9:53 pm

In what way is the Republican establishment failing to co-opt the Tea Party movement? I can’t think of anything. From the very beginning it was a revolt on behalf of corporations against the common man (Rick Santelli’s “Do you want greedy humans taking advantage of Wall Street?!? Hell no!”). Now it shares all social-conservative characteristics with the Republican Party as well.

Of course, it’s all theoretical until the Tea Party candidates actually enter congress. My bet is that 100% of them vote with Mitch McConnell 100% of the time.

34

Brett Bellmore 10.16.10 at 11:32 pm

“What should we do about our election laws?”

I personally favor a system whereby all legislative seats are apportioned by a system of proxies. Anyone with a proxy, even their own, could vote in the legislature, with their vote weighted by the number of proxies they held. This would in one move render gerrymandering completely useless, since being in the minority in a particular district, no matter it’s shape, would not render you unrepresented.

By making the proxies revocable, the common place phenomenon of people being elected, and immediately ‘changing’ their mind about some big issue would also be mooted.

Of course, the fundamental problem with ANY proposal to fix things, is that almost all of our institutions are now controlled by self-perpetuating cliques.. Getting around that wouldn’t be easy.

“In what way is the Republican establishment failing to co-opt the Tea Party movement?”

This would undoubtedly explain the way the Tea party movement has worked to defeat, in some cases successfully, establishment candidates and incumbents in the primaries: It’s a demonstration of the Republican establishment’s self-loathing, right?

35

john c. halasz 10.16.10 at 11:46 pm

O.K. This is pretty boring, but meh?

http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/5682

36

PHB 10.17.10 at 3:16 am

I think people have lost sight of what the GOP has become: a pyramid scam.

The Republicans have lost all interest in government and only a few of them stand for election. For most members of the inner circle the purpose of the political machine is to make them rich.

The Chamber of Commerce is taking in tens of millions to place political ads. And Donahue is raking off a million a year as his salary and probably another 10% in various commissions.

The evidence suggests that the GOP wedge issues have at best a marginal benefit to the GOP and may well be hurting more than they help. Playing the race card against Latinos as the GOP is doing in Arizona does not make Arizonans any more racist or markedly increase the number of racists who vote. But it does cause the racists to open their wallets and does cause Latinos to think twice about pulling the lever for the GOP.

The way these scams work is that they have two organizations, a direct mailing outfit and a political group both controlled by the same people. At the start of the month the organizers lend the political group $100K to send out mailings which it promptly pays to their direct mail company which spends maybe $50K on stamps, printing, renting of lists etc. and keeps the other $50K as profit. The first $100K brought in from the mailing goes to repay the original loan. Anything above that will be carried over to fund the next month’s mailing.

Since all these groups ever do is fundraising, every dollar that does not go on salaries and out of pocket expenses will find its way into the owner’s pockets eventually.

When these organizations do put out actual issue ads, the objective is to attract attention from potential donors by being as obnoxious and memorable as possible.

37

Alex K 10.17.10 at 3:51 am

This would undoubtedly explain the way the Tea party movement has worked to defeat, in some cases successfully, establishment candidates and incumbents in the primaries: It’s a demonstration of the Republican establishment’s self-loathing, right?

How are these Tea party people going to be different on substantive issues of policy from the people they’re replacing? In fact, how could they? All but a handful of Republicans have voted against the Democrats’ signature legislation all year long, and the ones who occasionally voted with the Dems (Cao, Castle, Djou) are likely getting replaced by Democrats. What difference is there between the “establishment”, and the “populists”? There is none, policy-wise, and the rest is just branding. And the reason they’re all the same is because the Tea Party is not populist. They’re the result of 30 years of corporations-are-your-friends talk from the power structure. It seems like the only reason people call the Tea party “populist” is because they’re mad about the bailouts. Well, 1) A lot of people are mad about the bailouts, 2) They’re mad because they associate them with Obama, and everything he does is evil in their eyes, and 3) If you don’t think they can be bamboozled into supporting bailouts during the next banking crisis, you’re as foolish as they are. They’ve already been duped into thinking that the president is a Muslim and that the Democrats are communists and God knows what all.

38

Lee A. Arnold 10.17.10 at 5:24 am

The Republican Party may win this election, but they have trouble ahead. The mainstream Republicans have been intellectually imploding for years. Now it isn’t clear whether they can buy-off their new extremists. The phony rhetoric of Reaganomics was the justification for cutting taxes, and it worked as long as the Democrats would play along, and then stupidly and repeatedly take the blame for the resulting deficits. Those days appear to be over. The Republicans will have to start cutting the main safety net to get any more big tax cuts. How the moneybags-astroturfers can sell that to the rest of the public is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile the main significance of the split in the Republican Party is that it presents a real chance for the Democrats to drive a deep wedge into these clowns, if only the Dems have the brains and the moxie. Which is another big “if”. However, the Dems may find themselves compelled to finally start fighting, just to save themselves politically. They may also recognize that they have set themselves up nicely to fight, because Obamacare is going to be attacked in detail, and this fact finally offers the chance to explain it to the public in detail. In essence, voters may come to understand that the Dems have strengthened the safety net while shaving long-term costs — a good moral position to be in, as well as the only practical way forward for the country. Many of the cynical commentators here are way ahead of the curve — most Americans simply have not had the time, nor found any good guidance, to study these issues.

39

Brett Bellmore 10.17.10 at 1:55 pm

Alex, it seems to me that the tea party being astroturf is not, for you, so much a conclusion as a premise. You’re claiming that the Republican establishment deliberately created a fake movement to defeat Republican establishment candidates, and your basis for being confident of this is your prediction that, if elected, the tea party candidates that defeated the establishment candidates will have identical voting patterns.

But, even if this prediction comes true, and even if the tea party candidates win their elections, the result will have been to defeat Republican incumbents, and the Republican establishment exists for the benefit of Republican incumbents.

And that the tea party candidates will win their elections is far from assured, and scarcely even assumed by the tea party movement. Which movement thought it reasonable to trade a lessened chance of a November victory for a higher chance of liking the outcome if they did win.

No, to the extent the tea party movement is backing establishment candidates, the GOP establishment is happy to have them around, but a tea party which was actually run by the Republican establishment would behave rather differently.

But it would be foolish to deny that the GOP establishment is TRYING to co-opt the tea party movement. Neither major party is very comfortable with the existence of independent political movements. Time will tell whether they will ultimately be successful at that co-opting, (I’m betting “yes”.) but it hasn’t been accomplished yet.

40

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.17.10 at 2:25 pm

the Republican establishment exists for the benefit of Republican incumbents

This sounds naive; the Republican establishment exists for the benefit of their constituency, large multinational corporations. Incumbents are valuable only because they are proven to be loyal soldiers. If they are replaced by a new crop it may be a bit of a headache for a while, but there is no doubt that the new guys can soon be trained and disciplined to fight as loyally and efficiently as the old ones.

41

Earnest O'Nest 10.17.10 at 2:36 pm

Did the democrats ever deliberately set up their extreme left? I guess some people believe that. On the other hand, I would be surprised if they have never tried to co-opt the Green Party. So I think Brett has a point.

42

Steve Williams 10.17.10 at 4:17 pm

“You’re claiming that the Republican establishment deliberately created a fake movement to defeat Republican establishment candidates . . .”

I think that’s a bit misleading. ‘The Republican establishment’ is not a monolith, and is, as has been documented here, consisting of people representing various different factions, not all of which are always in agreement (especially during primary season!) It seems to me obvious that any workable definition of ‘Republican establishment’ would include both Bob Bennett and David Koch. The claim isn’t that Republicans are tripping themselves up in a devious double-bluff maneuver, simply that two very different factions have come up against one another in a particularly antagonistic primary season, and the ‘winners’ this time are more obviously than usual from one particular faction.

I can’t see anything wrong with Alex K’s analysis. There is no actual way that potential Tea Party victors can do anything more extreme than the current Republican class. How do you get more obstructive than people who say no to everything? This is why the Tea Party is going to struggle to retain any identity – Bob Bennett was a game-changing firebrand, too, once upon a time.

43

James Kroeger 10.17.10 at 4:42 pm

I’m rather surprised that there is so much confusion re: the Tea Party and the role it plays in contemporary American politics.

The ‘Tea Party” is a creation of a couple of billionaire Republicans and strategists like Dick Armey. They wanted to respond to the Democrats’ big victory in 2008 with some kind of political action, but they realized that the Republican Brand had been seriously damaged by economic events.

Their greatest concern was that the Democrats’ call for increased government spending would lead to an increase in the tax burdens of rich people. So they wanted to somehow vociferous opposition to such initiatives expressed in the media, but without those criticisms coming from rich people, for whom there would be little sympathy. So they decided to organize some ‘grass roots’ protests to create the false impression that the complaints about government spending were coming from common folks.

Mainstream Republican politicians were not much concerned about these well-financed protests, since their angry rants did achieve one important goal that that every Republican politician valued very much: they filled the mainstream media with images of people who were angrily opposed to Democratic “big government” solutions at a time when the Republican politicians had little credibility left.

The only problem with this idea was that, while most ‘average folks’ were not much interested in joining them in opposition to tax hikes for rich people, members of the Religious Right were more than happy to step into the breach. ‘Christian’ [Pharisee] Republicans had always felt ignored by the secularists in the Republican Party, so they eagerly embraced the idea that some average folks in the party were challenging the party’s status quo.

So now they have made the Tea Party their own, much to the chagrin of secular Republican politicians. And now that the Tea Party has successfully challenged secular candidates picked by party officials in the primary elections, main stream secularists are beginning to see a split in the party that could end up dividing the financial resources needed to buy election victories.

My guess is that the Tea Party’s funding will soon dry up, thanks to the appeals of party secularists, who can be counted on to beseech the billionaires that have been funding the Tea Party, to stop enabling those trouble-makers. To the extent that there is a ‘civil war’ in the Republican Party, this is it: between the religious and the secularists. I doubt very much that the religious right is going to prevail; not after their funding is cut off.

That is why I expect to hear, about a year from now, that the Tea Party was just a passing fad, whose time had come and gone.

44

parsimon 10.17.10 at 6:41 pm

Alex the Yorkshire Ranter gets it right upthread. I’d add, somewhat obviously, that the electorate had become disaffected enough in the face of the economic downturn and the poor record of the Bush administration (Iraq war: not so good) that increasing the Republican-leaning voter turnout for these midterms was crucial, to offset the increased turnout in 2008 by the Democrats. All you have to do is say “soshulist.” Contra the strange musical mountaineer upthread, the Tea Partiers are not going to upend the established Republican party; how would they get co-signers for any bills they might propose (to abolish the Department of Education or the IRS, whut?)

Alex, on the Sharron Angle $12 million spent to raise $14 million business, my understanding is that Angle didn’t have to come up with the initial expenditure: it was taken as a percentage of the $14 million raised. Benen has a post on this.

45

PHB 10.17.10 at 7:44 pm

Only the naive believe that the GOP is the party for the rich. The GOP is the party for a very small number of rich people who want to be a lot richer at the expense of everyone else.

Over the past decade the GOP has destroyed more wealth at every level of income than any Democrat ever raised in additional taxes. The rich were by far the biggest losers. But some of them cling to the naive hope that people who hate people for being poor must love people like them for being rich.

Being a politician has been more bother than it is worth for decades. The real innovation in the Gingrich revolution was working out how to recruit plausible second hand car salesmen willing to do the establishment’s work for them. In the past the people making the decisions were the politicians, now its the money men that control everything.

After the catastrophe of the Bush years the GOP establishment faced two major challenges, the first was that their policies were totally discredited by the results of eight years of putting them into action, the second was that there was a real risk that GOP elected representatives would abandon their agenda as electoral poison. If that happened 2008 would be the permanent high watermark of movement conservatives.

The Tea Party served two functions. The first and most important was to make clear to every elected GOP politician that they faced certain defeat in the primaries if they dared to compromise with the Democrats. As far as the establishment was concerned it is much better for them to lose a seat than have it won by a politician who might disobey them. The second was to re-energize the base and give them an alternative explanation for the failures of the Bush administration.

Neither strategy really requires a win in the mid-terms. Which is why the GOP has been keeping its base at fever pitch for 18 months now. The Tea Party fervor peaked months ago, their recent rally performances were pathetic. This was all very predictable.

At the moment the GOP does not appear likely to win in the Senate and is more likely than not to fail to take the house either. Incumbency has real advantages that tend not to show up in generic polls.

46

musical mountaineer 10.17.10 at 7:53 pm

Wow. This thread is magnificent. Future historians and social psychologists will find fodder for dozens of theses here.

Now, I’ll make a few bold and contrary predictions.

The Tea Party movement will not be a passing fad. It will surge again in 2012, more ideological and better organized than ever.

The Tea Party movement will not be co-opted by anyone. Some of its members will succumb to the temptations of government as we know it, but enough will not. The ones who do succumb will, in more than one exemplary case, be purged. The GOP will get ideology, or it will cease to exist as a political force. The Democrat party will be the last refuge of the Evil Multinational Corporations, and probably vice versa. If you think Democrats are not already up well past their elbows in dirty corporate kickbacks, you’re a rube.

The Tea Party movement, consisting as it does of a bunch of political neophytes whose notions of government structure are coarse-grained and riddled with error, will not govern with finesse. Called to the surgery, they’ll walk in with a splitting maul and start hacking away. There will be pain. For once, the government will feel some of it.

Electoral politics will change. Ideology will become far more important, personality and the vagaries of the business cycle less so. Political advertising will become less effective. Political volunteerism will increase. The “moderate” and “independent” demographics will dwindle away as more individuals choose ideological camps. Voting one’s “self-interest” will become distinctly less fashionable.

The people who didn’t see this coming (heck, it’s not coming anymore, it’s happening already) will be absolutely irrelevant. Instead of arguing about the phantoms of their admittedly fertile imaginations, they should have paid a little attention, every once in a while, to what actual conservatives were actually saying amongst themselves.

stendec croatoan mxyzptlk

47

cyn 10.17.10 at 8:52 pm

I have to say that on this point, musical mountaineer is 100% correct:

“The Tea Party movement will not be a passing fad. It will surge again in 2012, more ideological and better organized than ever.”

I really, really don’t understand why anyone would think that the tea party movement is going to collapse or fade away next year. Even if you believe that the tea party only exists because of funding and organization from the Koch’s and Dick Armey, and believe that ideologically it’s really no different from the right-wing anger that crops up whenever a Democrat is president, why on earth would anyone think that these factors are going to change over the next 24 months? Seriously, the view that the tea party isn’t going to play an important role in the 2012 republican nominating process is crazy.

Even more crazy are the following views, however:

“To begin with, Democrats are, if anything, more “business-friendly” than Republicans”

I mean, wow.

Now, if you want to claim that rank-and-file tea partiers are less business-friendly than the leadership of the Democratic party, you might have an argument there. But of course the proof is in the pudding, and once tea partiers start to vote in congress we’ll see where things really stand.

48

bob mcmanus 10.17.10 at 9:47 pm

46,47: People need to go back to Arendt, Roger Griffin, Neiwert, etc to figure out the Tea Party. The liberals sound like the SDP in 1928. Pathetic. Life is a cabaret.

Is Beck Arendt’s necessary vortex of the cyclone? Every instance is unique, I spose.

49

PHB 10.17.10 at 9:54 pm

@musical mountaineer

Oh the intoxicating whiff of ideology, how bracing, how exciting, how deluded.

Ideology is electoral poison regardless of whether it is left or right. What people dislike in the left is memories of smug hippies claiming to have found an absolute solution to every problem and everyone who disagreed with them was a fool or a tool of capitalist oppressors.

Ideology is the reason that the UK Labour party never had two successive full terms in office until Blair and New Labour convinced them that the ideology thing was all in the past.

The natural party of government is always the party of pragmatism. The ideologues will only ever get a chance to govern when the electorate has got a little bored with the pragmatists and want to take a risk.

The definition of ideology is not letting the facts get in the way of decisions. If the GOP does take the House this year it will be despite the Tea Party. But regardless of the outcome the Tea Party will insist that they were vindicated and double down on extremism. Ideologues always do. After their electoral defeats in ’79 and ’97 the party ideologues in both Labour and Tories decided the problem was being insufficiently insular, ideological and idiotic.

Palin, Angle, Toomey, O’Donnell and the rest are functional morons because they are utterly incapable of learning from events. No matter what the facts are they will serve to reinforce their pre-conceived ideas.

At this point the Tea Party has effectively routed the party moderates. Snowe’s choice in 2010 will be to retire or attempt to switch to the Democratic ticket. The tea party and club for growth will ensure that she is defeated in any primary no matter how many seats they cost the GOP with that strategy this November.

That is why both sides of the GOP are going to unite to ensure that Palin is selected as the 2012 nominee. The tea party will insist on it. The pragmatists will realize that the ticket is doomed anyway and that the only chance the party has of recovery is to put Palin in as the nominee and hope that her defeat is sufficiently catastrophic to allow the party to make an early change of course.

50

bob mcmanus 10.17.10 at 9:57 pm

People think I am crazy for hating on the Weimar SDP. But I think some, at least the Firebaggers, are beginning to understand.

Obama is letting it happen, he is making it happen. Moderation, civility, accommodation, and good intentions…liberalism…sometimes, under some circumstances, are evil.

51

someotherdude 10.17.10 at 10:27 pm

mcmanus ,

Are you suggesting that the Teabaggers are the rising right-wing nationalists, taking back their nation from the liberal social deomcrats?

52

Brett Bellmore 10.17.10 at 10:31 pm

“There is no actual way that potential Tea Party victors can do anything more extreme than the current Republican class.”

Whatever you think of the Republican party, THAT is a failure of the imagination of cosmological scale.

53

Cranky Observer 10.17.10 at 10:37 pm

> What people dislike in the left is memories of smug hippies claiming
> to have found an absolute solution to every problem and everyone
> who disagreed with them was a fool or a tool of capitalist oppressors.

Yes, all those “smug hippies” who held such incredible political power: “Scoop” ‘I’d Rather be a Republican’ Jackson, Tip O’Neill, Dan Rostenkowski, Dick ‘I Work for a Republican Lobbying Firm Now’ Gephart, etc.

As opposed to, I dunno, John Bolton, Alberto Gonzeles, Dick Cheney… You know, those radical right-wing Republicans who were never able to grasp the reins of power.

Cranky

54

PHB 10.17.10 at 10:56 pm

@Cranky

The Democrats managed to hold onto power precisely because they were pragmatists. Unlike in the GOP, the ideologues have never had a real turn at power in the Democratic party.

Clinton was not a liberal, he was a pragmatic conservative who appears to be a liberal because the media lens is shifted so far to the right. Obama is a pragmatic centrist.

Bush and co were certainly crackpot ideologues, but they got into power by pretending to be ‘compassionate conservatives’ and by getting the hacks on the supreme court to stop Florida counting the vote. Then they got re-elected by starting a war which is about the only circumstance where blind ideology is electorally popular.

If the US establishment media had been capable of objective political reporting, Bush would never have been nominated. It is a little difficult for the political process to work properly with the type of malpractice that the NYT and Washington Post and the other outlets were both guilty of.

What has changed since is that the establishment media is going bankrupt by degrees.

55

ChrisB 10.17.10 at 11:01 pm

Jumping back a way to a description of (some elements of ) the Tea Party as isolationist, I don’t think it’s possible to be isolationist in practice at the same time as deifying Marines, which all American rightists do. You can’t have an army as big as the next six based in every second country in the world and simultaneously withdraw within your own borders, and the teabaggers are much more viscerally connected to the first than the second.

56

parsimon 10.17.10 at 11:24 pm

musical mountaineer at 46:

Ideology will become far more important, personality and the vagaries of the business cycle less so. Political advertising will become less effective. Political volunteerism will increase. The “moderate” and “independent” demographics will dwindle away as more individuals choose ideological camps. Voting one’s “self-interest” will become distinctly less fashionable.

hahahahahaha. Good one.

It is true that we’ll see fewer moderates with the ongoing erosion of the middle class. A Tea Party-style GOP agenda will accelerate the income and wellness gap between rich and poor, and people will become even more embattled than they already feel.

57

PHB 10.17.10 at 11:53 pm

@ChrisB

“Jumping back a way to a description of (some elements of ) the Tea Party as isolationist, I don’t think it’s possible to be isolationist in practice at the same time as deifying Marines, which all American rightists do.”

No, it is not impossible, it is merely deeply stupid and illogical.

Isolationism and cowardice are at the heart of the Republican world view and always have been since WWII. They start from the axiom that the US is the best of all possible countries. From this they conclude that it is not worth learning anything about any other country. Whatever facts do occasionally pierce their isolationist bubble scare the crap out of them (or would do if they were not so full of crap to start with).

Republicans are love militarism, but most of them don’t like serving in places that might put them in danger. They love aggressive military action, so long as they don’t have to bear the personal or financial cost.

Bush is slightly different. Having observed Bush’s actions before and during his term of office, I tend to think that ordering people to be killed was how he got satisfaction. The more deaths, the greater the pleasure.

58

Irrelephant 10.18.10 at 1:00 am

Well, let’s see… haven’t heard much from Scott Brown for some time. Rand Paul is shamelessly sucking on McConnell’s dick at every turn. I suspect that Tea Partiers will be massively disappointed to find out that “old school” politics is the way it is going to go. And Republicans will use the opportunity to Pull a Newt (shit themselves in public, then blame liberals for the stink). Government shutdown, a flurry of bills to kill funding to everything that won’t reduce the deficit or the debt, all the stuff that could make a difference in this country’s future prosperity (science and education)will be defunded. Defense won’t be touched, social services won’t be touched, so the country will be fucked even more than it is now. Um. With any luck, a lot of old people that make up the base of the Tea Party will have strokes and die, or at least run out of stamina and nap through through to 2012, and then everyone (and i mean everyone) will be pant-shittingly pissed off by 2012.

It will be So.. Much… Fun!

59

Alex K 10.18.10 at 1:26 am

But, even if this prediction comes true, and even if the tea party candidates win their elections, the result will have been to defeat Republican incumbents, and the Republican establishment exists for the benefit of Republican incumbents.

This doesn’t make much sense. Republican leaders from, say, the 1980’s are in short supply these days, having retired, died, or lost elections, but that doesn’t mean the Republican “establishment” has ceased to exist. An “establishment” is bigger by definition than the people who are part of it at a given moment.

I really, really don’t understand why anyone would think that the tea party movement is going to collapse or fade away next year.

I think it will eventually, if not next year. It’s a representative group of right-wing extremism, which will always be with us, but individual groups don’t have eternal life. It may pop up under a different name with very similar principles, but I doubt we’ll be using the word “Tea Party” a couple election cycles from now.

Electoral politics will change. Ideology will become far more important, personality and the vagaries of the business cycle less so. Political advertising will become less effective. Political volunteerism will increase. The “moderate” and “independent” demographics will dwindle away as more individuals choose ideological camps. Voting one’s “self-interest” will become distinctly less fashionable.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine in Model U.N. told me about a delegate from another school who went up and gave a speech to the effect that the root of the world’s problems lie in the concept of the nation state, and that it was best to do away with it. This passage is not unsimilar. Yet it is even more confusing, as I wonder how “voting in one’s self-interest will become distinctly less fashionable,” when the libertarian ideology underlining the tea party is one of complete and utter self-interest, all the time, and anything else is socialism. Don’t get drunk on all that kool-aid, MM.

60

Alex K 10.18.10 at 1:29 am

Also, is there a reason that the people who sign their own names at the end of posts on political blogs tend to be conservatives, and smug ones at that? It’s a pattern I see website after website.

61

Steve Williams 10.18.10 at 2:37 am

“Whatever you think of the Republican party, THAT is a failure of the imagination of cosmological scale.”

Okay, fair enough. I’m big enough to come back and admit I was wrong in two years time if the Tea Party winners do fundamentally change the American political landscape. I’m just curious as to what they’re going to be able to do to effect such a remarkable shift (and gradual, incremental change won’t do here, we’re looking for a seismic shift, after all, that’s how this moment is being portrayed by those sympathizing with their aims) given the following restrictions:

1) The Republicans aren’t going to control the Presidency or the Senate,
2) Some of the Tea Party winners will have won in traditionally blue states, and said winners might very well suddenly see the value of moderation in pursuit of re-election,
3) The Tea Party is well to the right of even the RNC, and about as far right as one can possibly go while still being electable, and the public is far away from them on many issues (I don’t foresee sudden opinion poll reverses in favor of privatizing Social Security or reducing Medicare benefits any time soon),
4) The Republicans may want to avoid a government shutdown anyway, given the comparatively recent memory of how said shutdown helped dig Clinton out of a hole,
5) The internal contradiction of being in favor of reducing government spending in general, and no individual programs in particular, will actually start to have an effect when real decisions have to be made, and
6) The ‘Washington consensus’ has proved remarkably good at taming radicals on both sides regularly in the past, with one of the most obvious examples currently occupying the White House.

62

JanieM 10.18.10 at 3:14 am

@49: Snowe’s choice in 2010 will be to retire or attempt to switch to the Democratic ticket.

1) Presumably that should say 2012.

2) Olympia Snowe won 60% of the vote in her first run for the Senate in 1994, almost 70% in 2000, and 74% in 2006.

3) The Maine Republicans have been out of synch with the national party for a while; they are less extreme/loony on average. That’s changing somewhat, but the Tea Party certainly hasn’t taken over. And it’s a long time til 2012 . They have plenty of time to screw up before then. Also, Maine is a very small state. I don’t see anyone on the horizon who seems remotely likely to challenge someone who got three quarters of the vote last time. I could be wrong, of course…if the Tea Party has two years to screw up, they also have two years to prove that they can get people into office who will inspire voters next time around. I wouldn’t bet on it here in Maine, but these are strange times.

4) The sky will fall before Snowe will run as a Democrat. An independent, maybe, but that doesn’t seem likely either.

63

PHB 10.18.10 at 3:42 am

@JanieM

Oddly enough, I went to wikipedia to check the date, despite being pretty sure.

Not too long ago we would have been fairly confident that Specter would be re-elected as a Republican. Which he probably would have been had he had a chance of the nomination.

The thing about Club for Growth logic is that they much prefer to have a 100% dependable minority in the Senate than an unreliable majority.

Snowe and Collins have both tarnished their moderate credibility by voting to continue the GOP filibusters in this Congress.

74% of the vote looks much more impressive until you look at who the opponent was. In 2006 she looked unbeatable and none of the strong challengers wanted to take her on. 2012 looks like a much better bet for a strong Democrat. There is a significant probability that the Tea Party will either unseat her or damage her in the primary. And in the general the GOP will likely be stuck with Sarah-the-liar as the Presidential nominee.

Maine is trending heavily to the Democrats since 2000. Gore won a respectable victory, but Kerry had a much larger margin and Obama’s was larger still. There will be a strong challenge.

64

nick s 10.18.10 at 4:03 am

The Tea Party movement will not be a passing fad. It will surge again in 2012, more ideological and better organized than ever.

Given that the Kochs will, one assumes, still be rich in 2012, that’s about as bold and contrary as predicting a sunrise. Well done, you.

The Republicans may want to avoid a government shutdown anyway, given the comparatively recent memory of how said shutdown helped dig Clinton out of a hole,

That assumes an awful lot, in particular any degree of political memory. In addition, it takes a bare majority of the House to impeach a president, so you really ought to expect that with a GOP takeover, regardless of the Senate.

Going all the way back up to Brett: that vaguely-imminent third party challenge to the GOP ranks with the South rising again. That Brett and his ideological kindred still haven’t worked out that the NRA is a manufacturers’ lobby — albeit one with a large US manufacturing base — should tell you all you need to know.

65

JanieM 10.18.10 at 4:14 am

Oddly enough, I went to wikipedia to check the date, despite being pretty sure.

I’m not sure what you mean…2010 would mean she’s running now. She isn’t. Did wikipedia say 2010?

In 2006 she looked unbeatable and none of the strong challengers wanted to take her on.

Which strong challengers would those have been? I live in Maine. I’m not active in party politics but I do pay attention. I can’t think of any names that would fit that description, and I can remember conversations in 2006 about this very topic. Do you care to name names?

Not too long ago we would have been fairly confident that Specter would be re-elected as a Republican. Which he probably would have been had he had a chance of the nomination.

This assumes the current trajectory continues. We’ll see, I guess. I would just repeat that Maine is very small (PA is 10 times as big), kind of like one big small town. Congresspeople are a lot more like the folks down the street than in bigger states. I think this familiarity makes for a somewhat different dynamic; it’s harder to pull the wool over people’s eyes about who the candidates are and what they’ll be like in office. People may be unhappy with Snowe, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be happier with someone who runs against her in the primary.

Snowe and Collins have both tarnished their moderate credibility…

They may have tarnished their moderate credibility, but they long ago tarnished themselves in the opposite way and kept right on getting nominated and elected. And within the party, approval numbers in general don’t necessarily say anything about how they would do against specific primary challengers. It will have to one one heck of a strong candidate, and again I wonder: do you care to name names?

66

KCinDC 10.18.10 at 5:19 am

JanieM, maybe Specter wasn’t the best parallel, but what about Castle then? If Maine is a small town, then Delaware is an even smaller one.

Hell, here in DC in 2008, Carol Schwartz, the one Republican member of the city council, was defeated in the primary because she’d voted for a sick leave bill, which upset the business community. The guy who beat her then lost in the general to an independent, and we no longer have any Republicans in elected office here. Schwartz was popular and would have won the general if she’d survived the primary.

67

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.18.10 at 7:39 am

The whole brouhaha is about the fact that instead of already bought and loyal individuals a bunch of unknown will be elected.

But offering their brother-in-law a $500K/yr no-show consulting job at GE turns an unknown into bought and loyal in about 5 seconds. The rest is rhetoric.

68

Earnest O'Nest 10.18.10 at 9:49 am

The Bush times were better; the enemy was in charge. Now it’s awkward. Obama just hás to fail; so we can get right back to unconditionally blaming those in power for the unavoidable collapse of the world.

69

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.18.10 at 9:57 am

I keep seeing people like Brett and mm talk about the principled small government ideology that the Tea Partiers hold, and people keep taking these claims at face value.

The problem is that it attributes an intellectual coherency that the Tea Party simply does not have. As Matt Taibbi has trenchantly noted, most of the Tea Partiers, candidates and grassroots, have no problem with welfare benefits, Medicare, and subsidies – as long as they are the ones who receive them.

The anger is focused at perceived “others” – especially others who are not as hardworking, as salt-of-the-earth, people who are “lazy”, “dependent” and “undeserving”. Depending upon the Tea Partier in question, this can be a coded racial reference. That is not to say that the Tea Partiers are animated by racism (although for some of them that is a factor); simply that the Tea Partiers consider themselves the real persecuted minority whilst the others are coddled into dependency by the current government. The Tea Partiers believe that when it comes to benefits, they deserve whatever they get, even if it is a product of the same government largesse that they decry when they believe it goes to people they do not favour.

Whatever ideology the Tea Party has, it’s inconsistent and incoherent, based around a certain resentment about the perceived loss of relative privilege that their members believe is their birthright. It is nowhere near as “small government” as our libertarian friends think it is.

70

Brett Bellmore 10.18.10 at 11:12 am

Huh? Have I claimed that the tea party movement is principled? If so, I admit error: No movement of that size can be anything but a muddle. What I’ve really argued is that they’re not some kind of Republican establishment astroturf operation. Large social movements which disagree with liberals do come along from time to time, you know. They’re not all PR operations. You’ll never have any real grasp of conservative motivations so long as you’re gripped by this delusion that everyone would agree with you if not for Republican mind control rays.

Why, I’d go so far as to say that not all large social movements which agree with liberals are astroturf, either, even if there were conspicuous examples such as the gun control movement.

71

Pete 10.18.10 at 12:17 pm

I may have misread some of those double negatives in the last sentence: you’re not claiming that the gun control movement is astroturf, are you?

72

JanieM 10.18.10 at 1:02 pm

KCinDC — good question re: Castle. I thought of him last night too.

I keep saying “we’ll see” because I don’t have a crystal ball any more than anyone else does, it’s just that I’ve been seeing people going on about Snowe and Collins on the internet for the past year and I don’t get the feel (yes, it’s only a “feel”) that they are from Maine or have any experience of the politics here. It just feels like theorizing for the fun of theorizing. (Not that I don’t also think it’s fun to theorize.)

There has been pressure on Snowe for a long time to move to the right. She knows better; Mainers have liked her right where she has been, and she knew she would do better in the elections if she stayed there. On the right, maybe times have changed enough so that the bankroll puppeteers can find a far-right candidate and pour enough money into the campaign to convince Republicans to oust her. But I’m skeptical. (More on that in a moment.) On the left, Collins’s and Snowe’s popularity should have tanked during the Bush years, when liberals/lefties were wildly unhappy with what was going on in Washington. Far from tanking…I gave Snowe’s numbers last night. Collins had 58% against Chellie Pingree (now in the House) in 2002 and more (61.5%) against Tom Allen in 2008.

As for finding a viable candidate to put up against her in a primary, if there’s someone dazzlingly likely it sure isn’t evident right now. Delaware may be even smaller than Maine, and I don’t know much about Delaware, but Mainers are the archetypal skeptical Yankees. Couple the skepticism and resentment of out of state money with the down-home familiarity of the political personalities and it may make a different dynamic than in Delaware.

The other thing that I just can’t get my head around is the notion that 2012 is going to be like 2010. I look at the landscape in 2008 compared to now and I wonder why anyone thinks 2012 is going to be 2010 only more so.

73

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.18.10 at 2:06 pm

Brett: I took the “Republicans have more in common with Democrats than their own base” comment as a statement that the Tea Partiers do generally have “small government” principles, but they are attacking the Republican “establishment” for perceived statist sins. If I misread that, I apologise. But my argument is that the Tea Partiers are less for small government than government that isn’t perceived as helping the “undeserving”, i.e. anyone that they don’t identify with, that they have an acute sense of who their enemies are, if not what they actually believe, and some of the Republican “establishment” is getting it in the neck for being seen as overly conciliatory towards these enemies.

They simply identify this as a push for “smaller government” because they perceive the amount of “the other” to be larger than it actually is, and their own contribution to the size of government to be much smaller than it actually is. That is, there is just as much, if not more, authoritarian conservative feeling than explicitly libertarian; I think polls of Tea Partiers’ opinions on various subjects tend to bear that out. Just because they phrase their concerns in terms of liberty doesn’t necessarily make them libertarian.

I also think you mistake me for someone who thinks people can’t possibly disagree with liberals; I tend to disagree pretty strongly with them, although from the opposite direction. It’s not that these people aren’t genuine in their rage, or that they’ve been conditioned by Super Sekrit FOX Mind Control Rays, or anything like that. They believe what they believe pretty sincerely. The ordinary “Tea Party” activist would be angry even without the Tea Party infrastructure. I simply don’t think they’re that much different ideologically from other Republican inclined activist groups except in media exposure and intensity of feeling.

The infrastructure supporting the Tea Parties, however, is a different story. This seems to pretty much, in many cases, been bankrolled and set up pretty explicitly by FreedomWorks and the like, around the time of the whole Rick Santelli rant kerfuffle (which is what started off; there were “Tea Parties” before that, but they were very much associated with the Paul campaign and of a very different makeup and character to the phenomenon we currently call “Tea Parties”.) It seems like the Republican Party has co-opted this rage extremely well, using these organisations as a channel for this genuine anger, and used it as an expression of their own renewed vitality; a sort of political vampirism. Like many of these kind of populist movements, its’ co-option has not been entirely successful, and in some cases arguably backfired upon it. But I don’t think there has been anything more than superficial damage to the “establishment”.

You’re right that “Astroturf” is a bad word for it. The feelings are genuine; the bodies are there. That’s not what I would consider Astroturf; it’s no Taxpayers’ Alliance. But that energy has been harnessed primarily to revive the Republican Party, rather than reform it in a more libertarian direction.

The only interesting development (or, at least, one whose outcome would be difficult to predict) might be if there’s another financial crisis very soon, as might happen with the current foreclosure problems. The Republican establishment may find it very difficult then to bail out the financial sector again; or rather, they probably won’t, but they may find it much harder to prevent a major intra-party dispute from developing.

74

bob mcmanus 10.18.10 at 2:20 pm

if there’s another financial crisis very soon

I don’t think there is any “if” about it. Repubs and Tea Party at least share a rhetoric of free marketism that can both refuse a bailout and allow the big banks to steal their way out. Repubs will gleefully grab some scalps from the MOTU and then replace them with their cronies.

Obama’s at best inconsistency, at worst complete capture is a world-historical disaster. He better hope the banks can save him, because nobody else is gonna care.

75

Uncle Kvetch 10.18.10 at 2:41 pm

That is not to say that the Tea Partiers are animated by racism (although for some of them that is a factor)

As long as we’re all prognosticating: the Tea Party will effectively cease to exist the day there’s no longer a scary colored guy in the White House. Which is looking increasingly like January 2013.

76

James Kroeger 10.18.10 at 3:04 pm

Brett Bellmore 70:

What I’ve really argued is that they’re not some kind of Republican establishment astroturf operation. Large social movements which disagree with liberals do come along from time to time, you know. They’re not all PR operations.

Whatever do you base this belief on, other than wishful thinking? Is there any position advocated by the Tea Partiers re: the issues that is not also advocated by the Republican Party, itself? No, there isn’t. They are Republicans, pure and simple. They are nothing more than a subset of the hardcore Republican constituency that has taken on a new ‘identity.’ There may be a few more Christian ‘independents” who have joined up, who normally vote for the Republicans anyway, (whenever they get reminded that the Democrats are the minions of Satan).

There is nothing “different” that they represent, that the Republican Party in general does not also represent. They just have an appetite for expressing anger at their political opponents and for repeating demonizing rhetoric. Is there really anything that you can point to that separates them from the Republican Party, Brett?

77

nick s 10.18.10 at 3:38 pm

there were “Tea Parties” before that, but they were very much associated with the Paul campaign and of a very different makeup and character to the phenomenon we currently call “Tea Parties”

Quite so: compare how Reason.com (bought and paid for by Koch Industries) has treated Ron Paul’s supporters to those marching under FreedomWorks banners.

On the grassroots-astroturf spectrum, the Tea Party “movement” is like the turf laid on a stadium pitch: a natural product that’s carefully cultivated, then dug up and moved to somewhere lots of people can see it and a few very rich people can walk all over it.

78

Phil Ruse 10.18.10 at 3:42 pm

Instead of “which faction on the right do we hate the most” I’d have been interested on a comparison of party contributions to the Democrats. Maybe throw in a traditional “why we have to save the working class from themselves”. If you;re going to ask hard questions, ask them of yourselves – that takes a lot more courage.

79

cyn 10.18.10 at 5:11 pm

Phil,

Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but the linked post say this:

“The outside groups are supplanting traditional party spending largely on the Republican side of the aisle. There are currently eight outside groups that have each spent at least $2 million exclusively on aiding Republican candidates … These eight groups have combined to outspend the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) by $9 million so far. By comparison, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) have out spent the combined spending of the eight highest spending outside groups that are exclusively aiding Democrats by $17 million. (Follow the spending here.)”

80

Daragh McDowell 10.18.10 at 5:53 pm

Did anyone notice how Beck managed to con his drones into making a quarter million in small dollar donations to the Chamber of Commerce the other day? I mean there’s evil, and then there’s evil.

81

Brett Bellmore 10.18.10 at 11:35 pm

“Is there any position advocated by the Tea Partiers re: the issues that is not also advocated by the Republican Party, itself? No, there isn’t. “

Agreed. From the tea party perspective, the problem isn’t what the Republican party claims to stand for. It’s that they don’t MEAN most of it. They want to replace Republicans who are lying about holding positions they like, with Republicans who actually DO hold those positions, and so might lift a finger to put them into effect.

While the Republican establishment wants to be able to continue getting by on words alone, instead of having to deliver.

82

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.19.10 at 9:12 am

83

mds 10.19.10 at 2:18 pm

Is there really anything that you can point to that separates them from the Republican Party, Brett?

Well, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has stirringly defended the Catholic Church’s unaccountability for pedophilia, which isn’t currently part of the national party’s platform. Nor are scientology rehab programs and hostility to fluoridation (Angle of Nevada), or repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment (Miller of Alaska), though a few “establishment” Republicans have spoken favorably of the latter.

They want to replace Republicans who are lying about holding positions they like, with Republicans who actually DO hold those positions, and so might lift a finger to put them into effect.

This is certainly some truth to this, but in many cases it’s backward. Sure, Murkowski might have voted exactly as Joe Miller presumably would have during the 111th Congress, but she occasionally paid lip service to scientific fact and women’s rights. And that was apparentely unconscionable. Meanwhile, Mr. Miller is basically running on the slogan “Judge me by what I say, not by what I’ve done.” This worked wonders for Senator Scott Brown, who then proceeded to vote with Democrats a couple of times, as opposed to most of his “establishment,” non-Tea Party colleagues.

The thing is, this isn’t an either / or situation. The rank-and-file Tea Party Patriots can be completely sincere in their incoherent, contradictory, ahistorical horseshit. And they can be funded by billionaires who are delighted to have a “populist” movement begging to be beaten down even more by corporatocracy. Because contrary to all the revisionist claptrap, these are the same people who eagerly gobbled down RNC press releases while thrusting their hands into the air to take the “Bush pledge” just a few years ago, even after passage of Medicare D and repeated assaults on civil liberties. This is a movement outraged that a Democrat is in the White House again. Sure, sure, the Oath Keepers supposedly thought Bush was bad, too. They just didn’t, you know, actually form a group or speak out about “unlawful orders” until after a Kenyan socialist was inaugurated. People so entirely immune to cognitive dissonance are ripe for exploitation.

Comments on this entry are closed.