“The Beginning Of The Battle To Take Over The Republican Party”

I just noticed, via C-SPAN, that a bunch of bitter extremist conservative leaders got together after the election last week and told reporters at the National Press Club that what’s wrong with the Republican Party is that there aren’t enough bitter extremist conservatives in it.

The press event was led by Richard Viguerie, an influential conservative who has tried to help right-wing nuts take over the Republican Party for more than 50 years. To people like Viguerie, the GOP is merely “the most convenient vehicle through which to seek elective office.”

To give you an idea of what strange ideas whiz around in the noggin’ of Richard Viguerie, he thought that Rick Santorum was “the most electable conservative seeking the Republican nomination for President.” Yes, he really thought that.

Viguerie said last week:

The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today and the failed Republican leadership should resign. Out of last night’s disaster comes some good news, however. Conservatives are saying, “Never again are we going to nominate a big-government establishment Republican for president.”

As if he were reading from a script written by liberal Democrats who want the GOP to continue on its path toward national irrelevance, Viguerie elaborated:

Republicans never, ever win the presidency unless they nationalize the election around conservative principles and a conservative agenda…In choosing to ignore the conservative agenda, Romney chose not to follow the path that led to Republicans winning the White House seven out of the last eleven elections…

Now don’t get caught up on how delusional Viguerie is to think that Mittens actually ignoredthe conservative agenda,” an agenda he embraced so effectively that it helped bring him down (“self deportation,” anyone?). Viguerie said something more important, in terms of the internecine struggle that has begun over the future of the Republican Party: “The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today.”

The old conservative went on to demand the heads of Reince Priebus, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and “other Republican leaders behind the epic election failure of 2012.” He then tossed Karl Rove out with the other consultant trash he considered unworthy of advising the Republican Party, saying “no one should give a dime to their ineffective super PACs such as American Crossroads.”

Despite all that, the real problem for Republican leaders, who can see that their party is becoming nationally unattractive, is related to the following Viguerie remarks, in which he reiterated what is at stake for movement conservatives:

The disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party, and the opportunity to establish the GOP as the party of small government, constitutional conservatism.

Viguerie, you see, doesn’t just want to share the Republican Party with other Republicans. He and other like-minded zealots want to take it over and completely remake it in the image of the Tea Party. That’s what “small government, constitutional conservatism” translates to.

In the mean time, some of the more establishment righties, like columnist and Foxer Michael Barone, said the Tea Party “brings some talented people into politics…but it also brings some wackos and weirdos and witches, and we put too many of them on the ticket.

As a Democrat, I am more than happy to stand back and watch Republicans figure out just who are the “talented people” and who are the “wackos and weirdos and witches.” It will be amusing to see Republicans turn on one another, attack one another, injure one another. They deserve the tumult they are going through, given how many of them tried to destroy President Obama by waging a war of slander against him and by slowing down the economic recovery so he couldn’t win a second term.

While those disgraceful actions didn’t stop Obama’s reelection, they did hurt the country, and given the confusion they created around next year’s fiscal policies, Republicans are still hurting the country.

These people have sown division and uncertainty, and, by God, they are, as a political party, reaping what they sowed.

Is The Tea Party Overrated?

We are not a wing of the party.  We are the party.

—Richard Viguerie, Chairman, ConservativeHQ

On The Last Word last night, we had a chance to see a preview of things to come within the Republican Party, in terms of what the leadership is facing with Tea Party candidates, who, by the way, not only think they represent every single American in the country, but think they now control the entire government.

Richard Viguerie, a veteran right-winger and Tea Party ally, who famously said last month, “We’re all on the same page until the polls close Nov. 2,” was a guest on the show,  along with Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation.

Viguerie has put the Republican Party on probation and said he had no worries about the Rand Pauls and the Michele Bachmanns and the Jim DeMints in the party.  He was sure they were onboard the Tea Party Demolition Train. He had others in mind:

What we’re concerned about is these establishment Republicans. People say, “Richard, how you gonna pressure them? How you gonna keep ‘em true to their promises?” And my response is to add on to what you were saying earlier—about taking over the Republican Party—I think that’s what conservatives need to do, and the Tea Party people, is just replace these people.  We are not a wing of the party.  We are the party.

Phillips, for his part, was just as emphatic:

We’re going to all the Republicans—the Senators and the Congressman—and we’re gonna be saying, “Hey, you all ran on conservative principles this time; this time you all are gonna have to live up to your conservative principles. You’re gonna have to get the out-of-control spending under control.  You’re gonna have to reduce spending. You’re gonna have to do something to get this economy going—perhaps a pretty-good tax cut.”

Now, although the conventional wisdom has it that the Tea Party was an overwhelming positive for Republicans, it’s important to remember that these Tea Party folks may or may not have helped Republicans win only 1/2 of 1/3 of the government. 

And it’s also important to remember that they may have cost the Republicans control of the Senate by nominating and supporting Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck.  It’s quite possible all three of those seats would have gone Republican, if conventional Republican candidates had won the primaries.

Justin Wolfers, at Freakonomics, wonders out loud just what would have happened, if there were no Tea Party to supposedly energize Republicans.  What about the Senate?  He says:

It’s likely that just about any Republican could have won in those races where the Tea Party lights shone brightest — Rand Paul’s election to the Kentucky Senate seat, Marco Rubio defeat of Florida Governor Charlie Christ in their Senate race, or Mike Lee’s win in Utah.

And in Alaska, voters appear likely to have done an end-run around the fervent Tea Partiers, electing the newly-independent Lisa Murkowski.

As for the House, he says:

…perhaps there were some congressional races where Tea Party enthusiasm carried the day.  But you’ve got to balance this against the possibility that unpopular candidates in the headline Senate and gubernatorial races actually hurt other Republicans down the ticket.

Such counterfactuals are impossible to validate, of course.  But my view is that given the state of the economy, Republicans would certainly have taken control of the House even if there were no Tea Party.  And it’s quite possible that we would be looking at Mitch McConnell as the Majority Leader of the Senate, if Tea Party extremists had not intervened in Republican primaries.

But what I am certain of is this: If Tea Party enthusiasts keep trash-talking like Richard Viguerie and Judson Phillips for the next two years—with a haughty certainty that they speak for all Americans—then they will definitely wake up a sleepy Democratic electorate in 2012.

And that’s not even counting what their arrogance will do to the guts of the Republican Party between now and then.

Here’s some of the segment on The Last Word:

The Case Against Libertarianism, Against Fear

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 

—1 Corintians 13:11

I have often chided libertarians and libertarian-ish conservatives for embracing a “childish” philosophy, one that worked well when we were cutting and shooting our way to the Pacific, living out our self-serving Manifest Destiny.

But it’s time we put away childish things.

America has matured; it has blossomed into the most powerful nation in the history of civilization.  And as it has developed and gained world prominence and dominance, its Constitution has remained the preeminent document guarding liberty and justice for all Americans, partly because courageous interpreters dared to understand it in terms conducive to life in the modern world.

For the moment, libertarians and social conservative zealots and haters of either our progressive or pigmented president—take your pick—are playing nice as they join together to rout the Democrats this November.  But as the conservative fanatic Richard Viguerie suggested the other day in the New York Times, after November 2, the Peace Train will collide head-on with the Soul Train—the fight will be on in earnest for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

But for now, let’s look briefly at libertarian philosophy through the eyes of one of its most famous national proponents, Barry Goldwater, whom George Will married to the Tea Party movement in today’s Joplin Globe:

In 1964, the slogan of the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, was “A choice, not an echo.” Forty-six years on, the tea party is a loud echo of his attempt to reconnect American politics with the tradition of limited government.

I have owned a copy of Goldwater’s, The Conscience of a Conservative, for more than 25 years. The book was first published in 1960, four years before Goldwater was overwhelmingly rejected in his run for the presidency.  The following is an excerpt from the book that sounds eerily similar to what one might hear today, as teapartiers temporarily coalesce around demands for a drastically smaller government, some even calling for an end to what libertarians love to call the Welfare State: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid:

The long range political consequences of Welfarism are plain enough: as we have seen, the State that is able to deal with its citizens as wards and dependents has gathered unto itself unlimited political and economic power and is thus able to rule as absolutely as any oriental despot.

Unlimited political and economic power“?  “Oriental despot“?  Keep in mind that was in 1960, and Medicare and Medicaid were still liberal dreams, not to come until 1965.  One would think that after 50 years of even greater “Welfarism” than Goldwater could imagine in 1960, today we would all be bowing to our oriental despot, given a 50-year reign with “unlimited political and economic power.”  

But there just isn’t any oriental despot around, and as our elected President Obama struggles to use the federal government to lift us out of our economic doldrums, one can hardly say the feds have “unlimited” anything, especially “political and economic power.”

Such extremist talk was silly in 1960 and its just as silly today coming from platforms at Tea Party rallies or from 30-second television spots.  In fact, it is embarrassingly immature talk, and fortunately we have half a century of evidence that such fears are cynical and baseless.  Despite an increase in the role of government in overseeing our social well-being, our government is not tyrannical and we still enjoy our liberties.

In 1960, not only was there no Medicare and Medicaid, but the top marginal tax rate was a whopping 91%. Today’s top marginal rate is 35%. Hardly a sign that we are slouching toward oriental despotism.

As far as Social Security, always an object of libertarian and conservative angst, in 1960 the government only taxed the first $4,800 of income at a rate of 3%.  Today, the tax rate is more than twice that and it applies to all earnings up to $106,800. Yet despite that increase, which would have terrified the 1960 Goldwater, there still is no oriental despot on the horizon. 

In fact, Social Security is wildly successful—USA Today reported that the program “kept 14 million seniors above the poverty level” last year. Yet, despite that success, anti-government sentiment is as thick today as when Goldwater wrote in 1960:

Let welfare be a private concern. Let it be promoted by individuals and families, by churches, private hospitals, religious service organizations, community charities and other institutions that have been established for this purpose.

You hear this argument a lot from libertarians and conservatives.  In fact, it is one of their core beliefs that taxing citizens to pay for social programs is illegitimate, amounting to “theft.” The idea that taxation is stealing is creeping into the minds of otherwise sober Americans, who have begun buying into the notion that the government has no business in promoting the general welfare by establishing government social programs. 

Yet what we don’t hear from liber-cons is, what happens if we leave to private concerns all the needs of the needy and those private concerns aren’t all that concerned?  Before Social Security—when private concerns were free to promote the welfare of the poor—seniors were likely to die in poverty. The estimated poverty rate for the elderly was between 70 and 90%.  By 2008, it had dropped to less than 10%.

And whether one thinks that improvement was because of or in spite of Social Security and other “entitlement” programs—programs that are now threatened by Tea Party hysteria—there is simply no denying that the fears that have always accompanied an increased federal role in promoting the general welfare—that promotion rooted in the Constitution itself—are never realized.  Never.

We are not ruled by a despotic federal government, oriental or otherwise.  Goldwater’s State does not have “unlimited political and economic power.”

And contrary to libertarian assumptions, federal involvement in the well-being of the less fortunate, in the well-being of the elderly, has not led to less freedom, but to more.

Because thanks to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, more Americans enjoy the “blessings of liberty” today than at any time in our history.

Millionaires And Billionaires Fund Republican Takeover Plan

While Michael Steele, ostensibly the head of the Republican Party in exile, toils away in the GOP’s plantation house kitchen, cleaning up from an eight-year governing gala, the real Republican boss men congregate in the parlor making plans for yet another Age of Conservatism, the last one proving to be short-lived.

From the New York Times on Sunday:

In 2004, the Republican master strategist Karl Rove led weekly sessions at his Washington residence where, over big plates of his butter-smothered “eggies” and bacon slabs, he planned the re-election of President George W. Bush — and what he hoped would be lasting Republican dominion over Democrats.

In April, Mr. Rove summoned several of the important players behind Mr. Bush’s ascendance to his home once again, this time to draw up plans to push a Republican resurgence.

To help him push that resurgence are the usual suspects:

…the old coalition of millionaires and billionaires who supported Mr. Bush and have huge financial stakes in regulatory and tax policy…

Oh, boy! Millionaires and billionaires. Just your ordinary Republicans!

This time, Rove is assembling “a collection of outside groups,” in addition to his American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which began poisoning the political well a while ago, spending tons of undisclosed donors’ dough in various races around the country. From the Los Angeles Times:

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have already run millions of dollars in advertising in nine Senate races in California, Illinois, New Hampshire and other states. Washington state and Florida ad blitzes are likely to be announced soon.

Crossroads expects to move heavily into more than two dozen House races, including those in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly California.

Some of the $31.6 million raised by Rove and his allies for the Crossroads groups also is going into a grass-roots campaign network that promises unprecedented coordination with business and conservative groups, strategies to monitor new early voting rules and a new database that will allow precise targeting of likely conservative voters. It would then generate 20 million phone calls and 40 million pieces of mail to get them to vote.

Not very comforting was a quote from David Axelrod, President Obama’s politics guy in the White House:

They’re running a very proficient party operation funded by millions of dollars of undisclosed special-interest dollars. These guys are great political operatives, and they will have an impact in this election.

Not exactly warfare rhetoric there, David.  How about this:

They’re running a political operation that is funded by millionaires and billionaires, the same folks who benefited from Republican leadership the last time they were in power, and they are trying to buy this election, the bastards.

There, I feel better. 

A ray of hope in an otherwise dark electoral cloud was provided by Richard Viguerie, who founded Conservative Digest and is known as the “funding father of the conservative movement.”  If you don’t know anything about Viguerie, just know that he used to work for Billy James Hargis, a Christian evangelist who had a penchant for Communist conspiracies.

Back to the New York Times:

Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative strategist who has allied with Tea Party activists, said, “We’re all on the same page until the polls close Nov. 2.”

But, referring to Mr. Rove and Mr. Gillespie as part of the “ruling class,” he added, “Then a massive, almost historic battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins.”

At least if Democrats get kiboshed in November, those of us who write for beer money will have plenty of material, as the conservative extremists fight each other for control of the plantation.

Meanwhile, where is Michael Steele again?

Oh, yeah.  He’s in the kitchen.

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