Monday, 21 October 2013

The civil war among GOP money men


A civil war is well underway in the Republican party, between the moderates and the tea-party extremists. A key front in this war is the money war. Several conservative fundraising groups are choosing sides in this battle, and will essentially be funding rival slates of candidates in the 2014 elections. In at least one major race, Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky reelection bid, the two factions will each have their own candidate to support.

The McConnell situation is an example of a key issue dividing the two factions, the issue of primarying. Primarying, of course, is what happens when a relatively pragmatic Republican, who could actually win his general election race against the Democratic nominee, is attacked in the primaries by a tea-party conservative, who would face a tough fight in the general election. In other words, pragmatism versus purity. Currently the extremists want to primary legislators who went wobbly during the shutdown fight; the pragmatists want to keep those legislators so they can hold onto the House and try to take the Senate.

So who is funding the pragmatists and who is funding the tea party?


Freedomworks is a group run by an economist from the discredited “Austrian school” of economics. Although their economic ideas are silly and Randian, their politics are entirely pragmatic. They have been bankrolled by veteran Democrat-hater and check-writer Richard Scaife, the tobacco industry, Verizon and AT&T, and so forth. They are fighting against Medicaid expansion right now, for the practical reason that if the health care situation improves for Americans in general, the Democrats get a boost. Bashing Democrats is Job One.

Americans For Prosperity is run by the Koch brothers, oilmen; they disliked the shutdown and probably disapprove of primarying electable moderates out of Congress. AFP was linked to Freedomworks.

Crossroads, the Karl Rove operation, spent $200 million in 2012 with little to show for it; since then it has lost lots of corporate donors, and the Crossroads boys want their sugar daddies back, badly (Dick Armey was tossed out of Freedomworks in a squabble over how money was being handled, which Rove doesn’t want to happen to him). Crossroads and Freedomworks, both of which portrayed themselves as tea-party organizations, have actually been tacking back toward the center, away from the tea party, because they have both been losing even more donors since the shutdown battled went sideways. They now want to stop tea-party primarying attacks against moderates.

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce is where folks like Freedomworks and Crossroads were getting a lot of their cash. The COC is now mobilizing against the tea party and hates Cruz; they don’t want the Republicans who backed down in the shutdown to be targeted, nor do they want electable moderates to be primaried out by unelectable tea-party candidates.  And they were of course horrified that Cruz and the gang took us to the brink of a global depression. They can gin up massive corporate money when they need to.

Mitch McConnell, incidentally, is on this team, and so is Orrin Hatch.


The Heritage Foundation is ironically the group that originally crafted parts of Obamacare. Now they are singing a different tune and they have a lot of businessmen on board, particularly those who hate regulation, as well as Steve Forbes, and oddly enough Richard Scaife who also funds the more moderate Freedomworks. Jim deMint runs this one. During the shutdown they threatened Republican legislators who might have been thinking about backing down in the shutdown, so much so that Hatch condemned their tactics.

The Club For Growth is focused on taxes and related issues. They were early adopters of primarying attacks.

The Senate Conservatives Fund is the group which Jim deMint worked with before moving on to the Heritage Foundation. They like primary attacks and rightwing candidates, winning with Mike Lee and Rand Paul but losing with Sharron Angle and Christine “The Witch” O’Donnell. Now they love Ted Cruz and hate McConnell.

The Madison Project is focused on abortion and likes primarying: in fact they never support incumbents. They want more Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees, and they already see Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce as the enemy. They mostly have smaller donations so they may not be able to play with the big boys for long.

Ted Cruz wants to fight the shutdown all over again, and wants the Senate to stand with him.

Sarah Palin may help attack McConnell. She’s back!


The moderates will probably win the money battle, but the extremists have a mass of Republican primary voters on their side. Team Tea also has a simple consistent message: they can say “no abortion, no Obamacare, no gay marriage” and so forth, whereas the moderates must asterisk their pitch with “yeah, yeah, we oppose abortion and Obamacare too, but we also need to compromise so we can win”, which is a tough sell for true believers who spend all their waking hours in the purist world of the Fox-Rush alternate-reality bubble.

And what about Fox and Rush? I think both would like to tread the fine line in the middle, so as to keep both moderates and extremists tuning in, but I would expect Fox to tilt a little toward the moderates while Rush tilts to the right. So far, their behavior is bearing that out. Fox is grimly staying on-message, focusing on beating Democrats by incessantly bashing Obama; little comment on the intramural Republican squabbling. Rush, meanwhile, is hollering “Cruz, Mike Lee, Heritage Foundation”… “Can you imagine in this last five years, if we would've had five or ten Ted Cruzes? Can you imagine the difference?  Can you imagine? If we had five or ten Ted Cruzes, we'd win a lot of debates.” Rush is so in love with the tea people that he actually thinks Cruz is a great debater.

The more even this fight is, the longer and bloodier it will be. And, the better for Democrats. If 2014 is a debacle for the GOP, the moderates will use that as a talking point: “we lost on the shutdown fighting your way, we lost the House fighting your way, now we must unite and focus on bashing the Democrats, or Hillary will absolutely crush us in two years!”

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