Saturday 19 October 2013

Warning sign for Team Blue


Here is something that looks small at first glance, but could become huge in two years.

Earlier I noted that the potential Republican candidates for president in 2016 fall, roughly speaking, into two categories: the mildly obnoxious people like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, and the tea-drinking loons like Ted “Calgary” Cruz and Rand Paul. I suggested that given the current climate within the GOP, with the tea-flavored loons beating the mild moderates into submission and leading the whole country to the brink of ruin in the process, it was more likely that someone like Cruz or Paul or Ryan would wrap up the GOP nomination in 2016.

Here’s a new sign that I have been wrong.

The mild moderates get their money from the same place Republicans have always gone for campaign money: corporate America, the banks, the rich.

The tea-party loons are getting their money from the tea coalition and the far-right think tanks: the Big Four are Freedomworks (Armey and Kibbe), Crossroads GPS (Rove), Americans for Prosperity (the Koch brothers) and Heritage Foundation (Jim deMint). The Big Four far-right groups are mostly what we call astro-turf groups: groups that pretend to be grassroots ideological movements, but really get their money from the same corporate donors who have owned the GOP for a century.

The problem for the tea-party candidates is that they began to believe their own rhetoric. They began to believe that the support they were getting was really coming from the grass roots, rather than the boardrooms and investment banks in New York.

Back when the tea-party movement was born, this misunderstanding didn’t matter. The “grass roots” and the corporate donors shared a goal, to destroy Obamacare. The corporate people, because the health care plan would crimp the profits of some key industries, and the grass roots, because they hated that colored feller in the White House. But they all had the same goal.

So when Ted Cruz and the tea people began their effort to drag the nation to the brink of default, they didn’t care that the banking community was horrified at the prospect of the nation crashing through the debt ceiling and creating a global recession. The tea people told themselves: we don’t care about corporate America, our support comes from the grass roots!

And now they are finding out how wrong they are. Only a few days after the tea party badly damaged the GOP brand and almost destroyed the economy in the process, the donors who have been the real source of tea-party power have closed their checkbooks. Freedomworks and Crossroads GPS are both running out of money because donors are freaked out at what the tea-party people are doing on Capitol Hill, and also the damage done by tea-party candidates like Todd Akin losing winnable elections. Donors, like everyone else, hate wasting their effort on losers. Will Americans For Prosperity and Heritage Foundation cut the purse strings too?

If corporate America uses its financial muscle to reclaim control of the GOP from their future-former allies in the tea party movement, then the “grass roots” will really be all the tea party has left to rely on. And that means they probably lose, because winning a presidential election costs, literally, a billion dollars these days. When 2016 comes around, the corporate boys will steer their money toward some relatively sane Romney clone like Chris Christie, and all the tea party boys can do is hope that one of their own can capitalize on the far-right voters in Iowa and the Super Tuesday states, and resist the tide of corporate money backing the moderate candidate.

Somebody like Ted Cruz could try to model 2016 fund-raising on Obama’s brilliant effort to raise cash in 2008. But Obama actually got plenty of money from corporate America, just like the GOP did: contrary to myth, Team Obama wasn’t driven by ten million bus drivers and housekeepers sending in their lunch money. Also, as Hillary can attest, Obama and his team proved themselves to be brilliant strategists, in funding as in everything else: Ted Cruz’s ham-handed effort to destroy the global economy was clearly the work of a strategic novice, and the people he would surround himself with are more likely to be dewy-eyed true believers than campaign pros who can raise and bundle money without going to jail.

The corporate boys will have even more reason to keep the nomination away from the tea people, if the tea party wants someone like Cruz, who did all he could to drag the financial community back to 1929, or Paul Ryan, whose notions of national finance betoken dangerous incompetence, or Rand Paul, a reckless iconoclast who wants to blow up big parts of America – entire cabinet departments -- just to hear the bang. Big Money is afraid of Big Crazy, particularly after coming within inches of seeing the Dow and the financial markets crash.

So this should be a warning for Democrats. The grownups in the GOP are very quickly going to steer their money and support toward candidates who can actually win, like Chris Christie. And that means that the Democrats can lose the White House if they nominate anyone but their best candidate. If Christie is matched up with a second-tier Democratic candidate, a race that should be in the bag for Team Blue becomes a real race.

So who is the best Democrat for the race?

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