Michael Wolraich's picture

    Kamikaze Logic and the Republican Insurgency

    The Republican effort to defund “Obamacare” is like playing chicken with a wall. The Senate Democrats will never vote against health care legislation they spent decades to pass. The voters will punish Republican legislators if they shut down the government or default on the debt. Whether the Republicans crash or swerve, this game has no positive outcome for them.

    So why are they doing it?

    Many analysts blame opportunism and fear. They note that Republican politicians often run more risk from right-wing primary challenges than from Democratic rivals, so they're anxious to present themselves as fearless conservative warriors. Others, like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, may be angling for national attention to advance their careers.

    These explanations are correct but miss the important question. What about the people who are pressuring the politicians? Why would conservative voters want to crash their own party into a wall?

    It's fashionable to portray the right as a mob of mindless pitchfork-wielding ideologues who think nothing of driving through solid objects, but this bus is not driven by a mob. Right-wing primary challenges require money, and that money comes from a relatively small group of conservative fundraising groups. The people who run these organizations are not fools. They have spent their careers plotting political strategy.

    So why are conservative groups like the Club for Growth, Freedomworks, and the Heritage Foundation trying to goad the Republican Party into a suicide mission?

    It's natural to assume that conservative fundraisers want Republicans to defeat Democrats, but that's not the full story. The two-party prism masks the real dynamic behind the “Defund Obamacare” campaign. The immediate target is neither the Affordable Health Care Act nor the Democrats.

    Former Senator Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation, told NPR that Republicans who surrendered to Obama in the health care fight “need to be replaced.” The rare admission reveals the intent. The quarry is the Republican establishment. This is an insurgency.

    To understand the strategy, it's helpful to consider the first Republican insurgency a century ago. Senator Bob La Follette of Wisconsin was the Ted Cruz of his day. The press regarded him as an unhinged demagogue. Republican leaders loathed him. President Theodore Roosevelt denounced his “pointless and stupid filibuster” and criticized him for “screaming for something he knew perfectly well could not be had.”

    But La Follette had a strategy. His “pointless” filibusters drew national attention to his cause. His “radical” bills had no chance of passing the Senate, but they too served a purpose. After his fellow Republicans voted them down, he would tour the country. At every stop, he would read out the names of everyone who voted against the bills—Republican or Democrat—and exhort the irate farmers and townspeople to vote them out of office.

    It was effective. In 1906, La Follette was alone in the Senate. In 1908, he had a few allies. In 1910, a full-fledged insurgency split the party. By 1912, the entire Republican leadership had been decimated, and much of the country had come over to La Follette’s way of thinking, including Theodore Roosevelt. Many of his once “impossible” initiatives passed easily after that.

    There is one big difference between La Follette and modern Republican insurgents. He was a big-government liberal, a founder of the progressive movement. Today's conservative rebellion is actually a mirror image of his original insurgency.

    The Heritage Foundation and other right-wing fundraising groups first appeared in the 1970s, funded by beer-magnate Joseph Coors. They campaigned against liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, one of La Follette’s political heirs. By the end of the 1980s, they’d purged the liberals and set their sights on the moderates. With each decade, they raised the bar, culminating with the Tea Party movement. Now they aim to use the “Defund Obamacare” campaign to fill the Republican caucus with hardcore conservatives like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

    When House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican establishment finally surrender to the inevitable by passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling, the insurgents will take down the names of everyone who voted with them. Like La Follette, they’ll go out into the country and fight to replace them with more extreme conservatives.

    Liberals may be tempted to cheer this development. They’ll point to Tea Party failures like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Todd Akin in Missouri to prove that hard right candidates cannot win elections. But they would be wise to remember that pundits have been making such predictions since the 1970s. In those days, the G.O.P. was a weak and divided minority party in which ideologues like Cruz and Paul would not have stood a chance. As the party became more conservative, its popularity and power grew.

    A hundred years ago, journalists and politicians similarly predicted that progressive candidates were too radical to win elections. A century of progressive government proved them wrong. History has shown that political insurgencies can change voter attitudes and transform the entire political landscape.

    Today's Republican insurgents understand that. They are playing a long game to resurrect the America that existed when the progressive movement was just a figment of Bob La Follette’s imagination. In their eyes, the loss of a few insufficiently conservative incumbents is just a casualty of war, and the “Defund Obamacare” campaign is but one battle in the greater crusade.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke (Da Capo, 2010) about the rise of the right of the right wing. His next book, Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics (Palgrave Macmillan), will be published in Spring 2014. Sign up for the mailing list to notified about pre-sales.



    Very enlightening article. I don't think they just want to resurrect the old America, though. I think they see leaner times a-coming and want to make sure that they are in position to grab a larger slice of a shrinking pie. They exhort the values of an older America that only exists in memory while they impose austerity on the rest of us. 

    The older America they envision is mythical, for sure, but many of them believe in it. Most of the strategists are not rich fatcats. Even the money guys--the Kochs and previously the Coors--do not stand to personally gain. They've poured far more money into right-wing causes then they will get back. If material gain were the object, they would have done much better in the market.

    I don't mean "they" as individuals, I mean they want members of what Sarah Palin called "real Americans" to thrive and prosper at the expense of the others.

    Fair enough, but they wouldn't put it that way. In their view, modern American government takes away what belongs to them and gives it someone else. So the goal you describe is consistent with their mythology.

    They don't stand to gain Financially, but clearly, what they can in personal power and control is worth the millions to them (Of course, if we taxed rich scumbags like the Kochs at the proper levels, they wouldn't have all this money to use to ruin our nation), or they wouldn't be spending it.  Make no mistake, this is not a Rep vs. Dem thing, nor is it a White Republican vs. a Black President thing, although these are certainly factors.  No, what this is is an attempted coup d' etat.

    Everyone in politics is made of ideology and ambition. Some have more of the former, some the more of the latter, but I don't see a good reason to conclude that the conservatives have a larger share of ambition than anyone else in this game.

    You might expand on your statement:

    ...They are playing a long game to resurrect the America that existed when the progressive movement was just a figment of Bob La Follette’s imagination...

    LaFollette's imagination included outlawing child labor, Native American and African-American rights, women's suffrage, direct election of US Senators, a federal minimum wage, workman's compensation, consumer rights and opposition to use of government office for political patronage.

    The GOP  is not aiming to 'resurrect' pre-LaFollette America.

    They have a very short game plan. It never extends beyond the next election.

    It's why they don't make long range deals on the budget, entitlements or the deficit. It's why they work wedge issues like gay rights, immigration and abortion until they are dead as issues or impossible to reach agreement upon.

    Everything they say, everything they do, every policy they block or propose is in the pursuit of the one sole mission: re-election. Today's GOP has no experience in using government for anything else.

    They have a very short game plan. It never extends beyond the next election.

    This is simply false. We're talking about the strategists here, not some moron spouting off on Fox News or some self-serving Republican congressman. Have you read or listened to these folks--Paul Weyrich, Jim DeMint, Chris Chocola, Grover Norquist? To what they say to fellow conservatives, not what they say for press? They talk about the conservative movement, as distinct from the Republican Party. They talk about the long war to "restore" America. These are the folks behind the defund Obamacare campaign. The average election-seeking GOP rep is just a tool.

    Though it's somewhat inbetween long war and short battle, I guess--so I don't know which one of you it will help more in your argument--the NYTimes published this article October 5 detailing how"defund Obamacare by causing budget crisis" was a plan conceived by three dozen conservative groups forming a serious coalition to do so, at the start of Obama's second term:

    A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning


    Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

    Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

    It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.


    Thanks. I did see this. I confess to generalizing. I do think that some on the right thought Obama would cave on ACA. But not the smart ones.

    'Restore America' is just GOP PR bullshit for suckers. They had 8 years to Restore America under GWB and all we got is the Iraq War and an economic meltdown 2nd only to the Great Depression.

    If they wanted to Restore America they would support increasing taxes on the wealthy, who have had almost all the income gains the last 10 years, and spend on rebuilding infrastructure, they don't.

    They use slogans and bumper sticker nonsense to whip up the Base and get them to turn out the next election.

    When Obama presents a plan to do something, like reduce entitlements and cut the deficit, the GOP is no where to be found.  Every deal that is made is one less wedge issue they can exploit. To win elections. The strategy is to never solve problems but to perpetuate and exploit them, and blame it all on Democrats.  And the government. Which they make sure is never able to do it's job.

    I've listened to Grover Norquist and he wants to 'drown' that part of government that doesn't serve the rich, who fund him and GOP campaigns. Money = votes = win the next election.

    Republicans also talk about balancing the budget while they cut taxes by trillions and start wars. They talk about ending abortion - going on 40 years now, while denying federal funds for family planning to prevent pregnancies. They talk about 'securing the border', 'protecting marriage' while their leaders have had multiple wives and/or hike the Appalachian Trail.

    They have no plan, no goal, beyond the next election, and there is no issue or problem facing the nation on which they seek to reach a long term solution.

    I have sat down and discussed usually in opposition to their hard lines, positions and many other things dear to both sides of the issue with Republicans, to see if there is common ground.      The majority of the time,they want to discuss the idea that America cannot afford the welfare state.

    Yeah ....Yeah  I know the lefts taking points, about corporate welfare. Which leads to one conclusion, ....end welfare. Everyone wants to butcher someone else's  herd  because they don't want to butcher their own. We have to break this impasse.

    If you and others want to feed and clothe the poor, you and other like minded folks, need to donate to your favorite charities.

    Quit forcing others, through taxation, to support pet projects of others.

    If the State of Alaska, wants a bridge to Nowhere; get the folks of Nowhere to pass the collection plate. Don't tax me.

    I want what little I can save through life's hardships, to be able to support my own heart felt charities, without having to get anyones permission, before they steal everything I have set aside for my own families needs and those I love..

    Call that Restore America ...Restore the most basic of societies needs, The wisdom of the family head, caring for those they are responsible for, so that their offspring are not a burden on other families, who are struggling to meet their own families, life's challenges.

    Did you see the letter 50 Republicans sent to Boehner 2 days ago?

    Asking him to be sure in negotiations to cut Social Security by (1) cutting the COLA, (2) raising the retirement age even more, (3) means testing it (making it like 'welfare' and on top of that, (4) cutting the payroll tax on higher incomes to ensure it will need even more cutting later.

    It's interesting to see how some of these ideas are at odds with the concept of how SS is supposed to work, some points of which I didn't understand until recently (and I might still have wrong, so correct me if I'm wrong, daggers).

    There is a correspondence between the cap on the payroll tax and the cap on the amount of SS you receive, because the concept of SS is that the more you put in, the more you get out. So, naturally, if you cut the threshold at which you stop paying SS (#4), you'll also be (typically) providing less SS to those who don't need it (related to, but not the same as #3). Even though #3 bothers me the least (actually, it doesn't bother me at all — I'm already planning on not having access to SS), it's the one least in line with that concept I was referring to earlier. Those who need SS the least are the ones who get the maximum allowed from it, exactly because they were the ones who contributed the most to it.

    I'm actually OK with #2 (I plan on working until I'm 70, at least, but then my job isn't physically strenuous), as long as we can make exceptions for those who "age" more quickly than others.

    Oh, no. You drank the kool-aid.

    Even though #3 [means testing] bothers me the least (actually, it doesn't bother me at all — I'm already planning on not having access to SS)

    You indicate that you have other retirement plans. Maybe something like TIAA/CREF or VALIC. Maybe not, but at least you must be familiar with them. They offer annuities for retirement with specific terms and conditions and payouts tied to premiums paid. That's what Social Security does too. 

    If it turned out that come retirement you find yourself wealthy enough not to need their annuities either, would you forfeit them, too? After all, it might help the other plan participants who were not as fortunate as you.

    In your mind  Social Security is already a means-tested welfare program you want nothing to do with if you can help it. That is the kool-aid you swallowed and that is what really threatens Social Security.


    For those in the audience who may not know:  VALIC is a subsidiary of American International Group aka AIG of bail-out fame. The biggest sucker in the credit default swap scandal.  And here is why it was bailed out:

    The company currently manages long-term investment programs for more than 28,000 education, healthcare, public sector and other organizations representing nearly 2 million investors in 41,000 locations in the US.

    Private retirement plans -- safe as houses.


    Well, I'd say it's more likely my ignorance than me drinking any kool-aid.

    In your mind  Social Security is already a means-tested welfare program you want nothing to do with if you can help it. That is the kool-aid you swallowed and that is what really threatens Social Security.

    Actually, it's not that I want nothing to do with it (and I recognize it's not already means-tested), it's just that, if it comes down to there being support for me, who won't need it, or support for those who didn't put as much in but need more, I'd prefer the latter option to the former. (That's a big if there, but I am by nature a conservative person, where by conservative I don't mean bat-shit insane but rather averse to risks — which is also why I'm not counting on it being there for me in 27 years when I hit 70.)

    As for the details of my retirement plans, I'm not relying on TIAA/CREF or VALIC, but a more prosaic combination of funds (Blackrock is one of them, but I don't recall the others off-hand) under the guidance of my financial advisor. I'm not yet convinced the details of the plan are right, but I am lucky enough to be able to put enough money in that I can afford to make some mistakes. (My wife has recently started learning more about financial planning herself to help ensure that we make as few mistakes as possible.)

    Main fact is the Republicans want to end Social Security, and federal funding of Medicare/Medicaid. They would be OK with turning SS money over to Wall Street so they can skim off large portions of it through patronage and campaign kick-backs.

    Reagan raised SS payroll taxes to make it 'solvent', while 'protecting' the increased payroll tax, calling it the 'Trust Fund'. The Trust Fund was then spent to partially finance immediate and huge huge tax cuts for the rich. The rest was added to the deficit, which quadrupled under Reagan.

    GW Bush then claimed in 2005 that the SS Trust Fund doesn't exist (why? because raising income taxes is basically the only way to pay it off).  In swindler's parlance the GOP game would be called 'bait and switch'.

    Anyone who thinks they might need any of the above programs in the future had better not put Republicans in control of the government. Ideally the GOP would prefer you never retire, perhaps expiring your last day of work, the day after some hedge fund like Bain Capital, raids your pension fund, and sends your job to China.

    if it comes down to there being support for me, who won't need it, or support for those who didn't put as much in but need more, I'd prefer the latter option to the former.

    You are fortunate to feel so confident of your future. I hope it works out for you. However, I still sense that you feel Social Security is a plan for the less fortunate. How then will you feel about yourself if your plans, despite following the generally accepted investment advice available along the way, do not work out and Social Security ends up your primary source of income?

    You are right that Social Security as currently structured is inadequate for a comfortable retirement. Like so many of the programs designed for past economies, it needs to be completely rethought not just tweaked. I doubt that will happen in my lifetime but it should in yours. 

    Good luck with your investments. If you haven't already, check out Investopedia, a wiki for investors that includes tutorials. They even have a simulation game to play and will spot you $100,000 faux money to play with.



    I'll admit that I could be overconfident, but I also think that if my retirement plans don't work out, then it's that much less like that Social Security will be there for me. That said, if it is, and I need it as my primary source of income, it's less about how I'll feel about myself (I'm very non-judgmental, even about myself) then about the fact that (as you say) it will be inadequate for a comfortable retirement. Note that my point was less that I won't need it, but that if I don't need it (and I don't think I will), that I'd prefer more go to help those who do.

    I'll pass the Investopedia link on to my wife.

    There is no greater calamity than to underestimate the strength of your enemy.

    -- Lao Tzu

    Not underestimating, defining their methods.

    There is no long range GOP plan. We witnessed that fact with 8 years of President GW Bush. The plan is simple.  Loot, lie and pillage the nation. Re-election is necessary to keep it going.

    Screw the middle class, while serving the wealthy to ensure financing.

    Perpetuating wedge issues, and/or blocking any political solution to major national issues for endless exploitation, so they blame the increasing mess on Democrats and/or show 'big government' doesn't 'work'.

    La Follette had something he sold the voters that would make their lives better.  Things that were needed to move the country forward and protect people in there every day lives.  He gave a voice to problems that mattered.  Please explain what these yahoos now are selling to the general population that will keep them voting for them.  All their actions in the government comes down to hurting parts of the population.  The general population is fleeing their cause right now because of too much worry and fear that they are going to take too much away from everyone. They might hate the black man in office but not enough to lose their retirement savings and job over.  So what good is a long game if you lose the majority of the voters that keep you in power. 

    They're not selling to the general population right now, hence the long term gerrymandering project (and the difficulties that people like Romney run into when he has to switch to selling to a general population.) Michael's main point is that neither was LaFollette at the time he was working at it, he was instead selling to a subset of the population who felt aggrieved or left behind some way. And that he got more trouble than just flak for it at the time.

    The Tea Party sells to an aggrieved subset right now. Generally, people who have finally reached a place where they've got a little something, and don't want to live under the principle of being forced to give a bunch of that which they just recently managed to get to everybody else. And enough people that sometimes sympathize with this view aren't all Tea Partying nuts, hence Obama in his original campaign was careful in many ways not to alienate the upper middle class with any proposals that would harm them. He needed some of those votes to win.

    This way of thinking is deep in America, not as deep in places like Europe, where they are more used to handing over more income to taxes to support lower classes. But try to put yourself in the mindset of people who think like this, and look, for example, as the world becomes more globalized. Everyone can see the much huger inequality problems, and once you start on the route of being fairer, where do you draw the line? How good of a lifestyle should people be able to keep without redistribution when a lot of the world is going to bed hungry? I would argue that long term, this could sell to many. Look at all the anti-immigrant fervor around the world, for example, in places where they may be a bit more willing to share more with their fellow citizens, but otherwise they want to keep what's "theirs." And the whole outsourcing thing is another example, where liberals turn protectionist and xenophobic in order to keep better quality of life in their own country.

    I'd like to note that this whole mindset is something that the Democratic Leadership Council recognized needed to be addressed back before Clinton won the presidency. And their general sales pitch of "a rising tide lifts all boats" did manage to bring the Democratic party a lot of wins against a rising Republican tide, when the Democrats had been out in the wilderness politically for a long time.

    Comes to mind to add the point that the citizens of Germany, not a minor population in the scheme of things,  just wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorsed austerity economics. Merkel becoming the only leader in the eurozone, from left or right, to be re-elected since the snowballing of the eurozone crisis in 2010. Out of 17 countries,, 12 governments have fallen, indicating how protected Germans feel from the crisis under Merkel's leadership. In a result that was closely watched across Europe, Merkel crushed her opponents – and, indeed, some of her allies.

    Yes and no. La Follette was convinced that the majority backed him but lacked political power / enthusiasm. In the age of machine politics, that was more plausible than it is today.

    That said, the right wing has long been convinced that it has majority support. And while "majority" is overly optimistic, I do note that the political establishment has consistently underestimated right-wing appeal. That's why every conservative surge has taken the politicians by surprise--from the Reagan Revolution in 80s to the Republican Revolution in thes 90s to the Tea Parties. We seem to have already forgotten the days when the media treated the Tea Parties like a bunch of clowns in tricorne hats.

    the right wing has long been convinced that it has majority support

    Just throwing out some thoughts on that. A lot of that belief is dependent on a world where active registered voters did not include a lot of lower class and poor (especially in mid terms and more local elections, where turn out is nowhere near a majority of the population that could vote.) What Obama's run for presidency did was get a lot more of those people finally, finally registered and voting (after Dems wistfully saying during most of my lifetime "if only we could get everyone to vote!") Hence, the recent conservative campaigns to fight back against expanded voter registration and participation.

    Could be the disappointment of a lot of new voters with what has happened since they voted may help return us to that status quo where conservatives see their ideas and attitudes looked on more favorably in many instances of voting. So the tactics to stymie anything and everything are intended to do that?

    They just ran this 2-minute "man on the street" video on the "local Bronx" news of Cablevision. Take a look at what the last 2 of the 4 have to say. The last dude does a full on rap on how lazy Americans are and want something for nothing; the second last dude is clearly thinking along the same lines:

    Word on the Street: Americans score below international average in competency tests


    These are people of color from the Bronx and I could definitely see them buying into a conservative ideology of the future if the movement is handled correctly.

    And I would add that as the boomer generation goes further into drawing on Social Security and Medicare, we might see more bitter millenials buying into small-government, less taxes arguments.

    Yep. It worries the hell out me when liberals take these votes for granted.

    Interesting article, Michael, but I confess there's a middle piece missing.

    Why should this strategy work? Where's the "mechanism of action"?

    Surely it's not enough to go down in ignominious defeat for ideas apparently few like or find credible, read the names of those who voted against you around the country, and then, somehow, later your ideas gain mass appeal and are adopted as the common wisdom.

    Doesn't the content of those ideas and how they address historical circumstances have something to do with their eventual victory?

    I think you're right that conservatives believe that, deep down, everyone knows they're right...but that doesn't mean they're right about that. See Karl Rove on election night (and many, many Republicans from Mitt on down) as a short game counter example.

    So I can agree that this might be the strategists' deep strategy, but it's unclear to me why this strategy would work...unless you're going to say that every dog has its day if he barks loudly and long enough.*

    But maybe I'm asking a question a bit outside the scope of your post.

    *I imagine we could find plenty of examples of political activists who tried something like this--who tirelessly championed under-dog ideas--Henry Wallace?-- but never saw their ideas gain acceptance.


    A fair criticism. I feel like this piece is the beginning of a longer article.

    In assessing the strategy, there are two goals. One is control of the GOP, two is control of Washington.

    The first is straightforward. At some point, Boehner will cave. No matter what face-saving bone the Democrats throw his way, it won't be enough to satisfy the right. Next year, the conservative organizations will primary the Republicans who voted with him. They will knock out a few of them, enough to increase their dominance over the Republican Party, ensuring the next Speaker of the House will be more conservative than Boehner and even more response to the right wing.

    The second--control of Washington--is more speculative. The right wing is banking on the popularity of a party full of Rand Paul's and Ted Cruz's. That may not work. At some point, the right may overreach, and this could be that moment.

    But while I'm not predicting that they'll succeed, I'm also not ruling it out just because the polls show that the average American is moderate. The average American has always been moderate, but that hasn't stopped conservatives from consolidating power. Keep in mind that when they started this game, the right wing was a minor faction of a minority party. When Gerald Ford became President, he chose a Republican liberal, Nelson Rockefeller, for VP because according to conventional wisdom, anyone more conservative than that could not win an election.

    The nascent conservative movement bet against conventional wisdom--choosing Reagan in 1980, and they've been betting against it ever since. After the Obama and the Dems smashed the GOP in 2006 and 2008, everyone said they have to moderate. Then came to the Tea Parties, and the GOP bounced right back into Congress.

    I like this.

    I mean there is a bigger picture out there and I do see Heritage going for the long run.

    Heritage and others are attempting to STEM the tide as it were.

    The Wisconsin Progressive only went so far.

    In the end the Capitalists won.

    And yet, the capitalists are stuck in the mire of plebeian democracy.

    Shut off the vote for numbers of people.

    Shut off the access to lobbyists who have concern for the lower classes.

    Shut off the access to pensions for cryin out loud

    Shut off access to years served.

    Will it work?

    I think that there are tens of millions of folks in this country who would stem the tide.

    And they will lose.

    But the plebeians will ultimately prevail.

    As a number of commenters have pointed out, the short time aim is to keep one's seat in a politically sacred position.

    But short term, they might win but will ultimately lose.

    Governor Walker is a good example.

    I am interested in the short term results because I am so old I cannot purchase green bananas and justify the expense.

    I am interested in seeing Walker thrown out of office for this temporal reason.

    But the Walkers will lose in the end.

    That is all I got right now. ha

    Keep buying those green bananas, DD! From what I understand, you've got a grandchild who might need some progressive bananas after we're gone.

    PS If you need some inspiration, remember that ol' Charles Koch is pushing 78 with prostrate cancer, but he's still fighting the "good" fight.

    I think the difference between La Follette (whom I revered in my adolescence) and the current conservative backroom bosses is that La Follette and other progressives were moving toward a new political coalition, meaning searching for new groups of voters to mobilize.

    The contemporary Conservative Movement rose to power over several decades by doing the same thing. But the people you're worried about are out of new sources of votes, and don't seem to be cultivating any. In fact, the current shenanigans are weakening their grip on some key elements of their coalition.

    LaFollette seemed crazy but was ultimately vindicated because he was seeking to build a coalition of people who were currently shut out of national political influence but could potentially be built into a powerful electoral combination. Policies La Follette wanted were totally DOA in DC at first, because no one else who wanted those things had a seat at the table. But by appealing to a coalition of farmers, factory workers, etc., etc., La Follette eventually created new seats at the table and made the mainstream Republicans who represented Wall Street, etc., listen.

    Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and their successors, did much the same thing, building a powerful new Republican coalition by mobilizing new groups of voters whose allegiance was up for grabs: white evangelicals, the Dixiecrats, and white-ethnic suburbanites (the so-called "Reagan Democrats.") You don't need to reach out to moderates to rise to power; you can build a new coalition that moves the country hard to the right or left. But you do need to identify and mobilize a new source of voters.

    La Follette and Goldwater are (not coincidentally) like pioneers, moving into fresh territory and building, or like entrepreneurs beginning a start-up in a new, quickly evolving industry. But the rules that apply to city-building in the New West will not work in Philadelphia, and the strategies that make a tech startup blossom would be disastrous in a mature industry, like auto manufacturing or soft drinks. Visionary strategies work when they draw on new or previously neglected resources: new territory, new markets, new constituencies.

    The current GOP is sticking with its old coalition, which is no longer enough to compete for the Presidency (even against a vulnerable incumbent) or to get more than a narrow grip on one house of Congress. Demographic trends are against them. But they're actively antagonizing the new voter blocs they desperately need. And the default shenanigans threaten to lose them one of their most important constituencies, the business community. They're not just looking at short-term defeats. They've got no long-term strategy at all.


    Thanks, Doc. I think this is very insightful. Actually, it applies to LF as well. He was much more effective as a scrappy underdog pioneer than as a movement leader.

    That said, I'm not convinced that the conservative movement has exhausted its growth potential. I think most people would have said the same thing in 2008, before the Tea Parties expanded the base into states that have been historically moderate or even liberal--Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Even Delaware, of all places, nominated Christine O'Donnell. She lost, of course, but if she were as suave as Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, I wonder. I bet that even Philadelphia has more Tea Party enthusiasm than you might think.

    Great article, Michael. I agree that there is a long term strategy of the Conservative Movement that is operable and that it has been extremely effective, maybe more so at the state level than anywhere else. I also think that some of their tactics may be running out of steam,---we'll have to see in 2014 if their tea party act has gone overboard insofar as the House of Representatives is concerned (a Democratically leaning PAC is beginning to run ads against tea party reps in their own districts, some swing states are not polling well for them, etc). 

    In terms of the insurgency itself, Ryan's oped in WSJ today is a sign that the other part of the business community, as Doc noted, may be exiting tactics like shutting down the government with a ruse like defunding Obamacare; I think many in the business community understand how even more deeply offensive the insurgents have become to the voting blocks of minorities, women, plus anyone who is fair minded, and how this plays against a successful Republican party down the road.

    I like the comparison you have drawn. And getting giddy over a few setbacks for the Conservatives is doing so at our own peril.

    Thanks. One potential backlash may come from corporate Republicans committing more money to primary candidates. Thus far, this has been more of a cold war than a hot insurgency. But I don't really see the business folks winning if the war gets hot. Money isn't everything. The bigger peril to the right is if the business folks start defecting to the Democrats.

    It appears the GOP's short term strategy is working, Who do you hear now talking about immigration reform in a time of financial instability except; dumb Democrats trying to convince American workers, it would be good for the American working class, to share the smaller piece of the pie, they are about to receive.

    Another Republican talking point based on facts. To much regulation destroyed Western Electric and Bell  one of the great employers in American history. Best pension plan, best healthcare plan, destroyed by regulators. 

    Obama care will not be self supporting if the rest of our jobs leaves the country.

    Obama care = the cart before the horse 

    The Republicans and anyone with any sense knows,  The course were on; where EVERYONE  should work for the government, is a false hope as evident by the shutdown.   

    Republican long term goal:  Fight the Welfare state. Stop paying folks to have more kids so they can collect more welfare.

    "Get to work, you working slaves, so you can support the lazy ones, who know how to game the system "  

    "Say what? You want me to pay more taxes because someone else can't.... or Won't?"  

    When did America change from the old value of industriousness to slackers? 

    Puhlezze .. I don't want to hear the crying liberals, tell me about my responsibilities. 

    Protectionism protected American workers.  The liberals are fighting a losing battle in trying to convince the downtrodden American workers, that allowing 12 million more workers will be good for those of us trying to grab for whatever jobs are available. Those opposed to amnesty better vote Republican for if ever the left comes to power they'll force amnesty down our throats.

    Protectionism: Protect the job you have, because no one else really gives a crap; they only give lip service.

    The movement has already begun, the freeloading days are over. Hopefully for the long term. The new way is unsustainable, the old ways of frugality, perseverance and industriousness, always worked in the past maybe not perfect; but better than a welfare state.   

    That dog don't hunt with the younger generation.  There is a generational change going on and the GOP aren't selling well to them. They screwed up letting the crazies take over. 

    When jobs open up, there are multiple applicants.Americans want to work. If factory jobs are sent overseas, there are fewer jobs in the workplace. Americans need to be retrained  with the skills needed for the modern market. Unfortunately, state governments are actually closing schools rather than building more modern schools. 

    We claim to be fiscally responsible by taking away funds to feed children. We will then complain when nutritional deficits add to poor performance in our defended schools. The response is build prisons and then privatize them so at least somebody makes a profit.

    Blame the poor for being poor. Watch the middle class shrink as we act in a fiscally responsible manner making sure that those on the lower economic rungs stay there.The economy does better under the crazy lefties than under the fiscally responsible conservatives. 

    The markets have a negative response to so-called Conservative behavior. Our currency may become second rate paper as the idiotic Conservatives threaten the debt ceiling. 

    I'll stick with the lefties to come up with the fiscal ideas because the Conservatives are nitwits.

    To [sic] much regulation destroyed Western Electric and Bell one of the great employers in American history. 

    Please explain your reasoning to this conclusion.


    Interesting catch, Emma. It could be a typo where he forgot the "de" in front of "regulation." Or it could be from The Up-is-Down-and-Black-Is-White History of America.

    OTOH, artappraiser, he could mean enforcing anti-trust laws or more accurately removing AT&T's exemption from them.


    Yeah, I though of that, in which case it's an extremely atypical use of the word, and it would be important to clarify, since most politicos screaming about "regulation" being bad would not mean the same thing at all, but the opposite.

    Atypical from a progressive perspecitive but not from a Randian.

    I saw something a few days ago about Verizon not wanting to rewire a community damaged by Sandy but instead make it completely wireless. Service was so sporatic that the FCC made them rewire.

    With all the technological changes in telecommunication as well as electricity production, it looks like we will be refighting the utility battles from the early 20th century. 

    I also read that 85% of the country is now online but that part of the country still does not have access or it is very limited and/or expensive. Made me wonder at what point something becomes a public good or service. 

    Oops, off topic. More later. Maybe.


    Pardon the pedantic aside, but TR and Wilson had a furious debate about anti-trust law during the 1912 election. They were both "trust-busters," but TR want to regulate monopolistic trusts, while Wilson wanted to outlaw them.

    Wilson won, which is why AT&T was eventually broken up rather than regulated like some kind of national utility.

    Thanks for the pedantry.

    I look forward to reading your new book. Sounds like you are digging up some interesting history.


    It's fascinating material. I don't know the publication date yet but will keep you posted.

    And which one tended to be more worried about defending against possible terrorist anarchist actions? Just curious. devil

    I'd go with Wilson. They both hated anarchists and radicals, but TR mostly just shouted about them. Wilson incarcerated and deported them.

    I just want to thank Crooks & Liars and William K. Wolfrum--who is doing the blog round-up this week--for linking to this piece and to Dr. Cleveland's yesterday. It's awesome that C&L is still running Mike Finnigan's round-up and even more awesome that they tapped Wolfrum to help run it.

    Yes. Thanks, Wolfie. And thanks, C&L.

    I think you're on to something here.  But there's no need to posit a conspiracy on the part of the Elders of Mammon.

    Daggers seem to think that because the Democratic Party is clearly the Party of God, with Obama (may his name be praised)  as His vicar on Earth, then people who vote Republican must be in the pay of the Devil, or else slack-jawed zombies who are too stupid to see the light.  But the Republican Party is much more heterogeneous than the Democrats; it comprises many factions, not all of them aligned.

    One of the groups believes that big government grows inexorably into tyranny, eventually reaching totalitarian proportions, regulating every aspect of your life, deciding what schools your kids will go to, what size soft-drink bottle they may buy, etc.  This group wants to restore individual liberty and freedom of choice.  I'll call them, for short, the Hippies.

    Another group wants to limit women's access to abortions, and, eventually, contraception.  I'll call this group the Catholics.  The Catholics and the Hippies have very little in common, and are not natural allies.

    There are many other groupings.

    For these groups, the Republican Party is simply a pragmatic choice:  they are more likely to gain influence and power there than among the Democrats.  Were the Democrats to change their position on, say, abortion, then the Catholics might switch over to them.

    For each group, the important goal is to reach people and spread their ideas and try to persuade others.  The Republican Party is simply a tool to help them do that.  The important thing is to convince more people.  If the party gets damaged by their activities, well, too bad.  The ideas are more important than the party.

    You miss the point. This Dagger does not want a party of God---which for me is the main reason I would not vote for the typical candidate running under the Republican brand today. To posit that Daggers think of Obama in such reverent terms indicates you know nothing about the audience you are addressing.

    The last Republican I voted for was Pete Wilson, who in fact had better ideas about business in California than Jerry Brown's sister whose husband was a quizzical guy I knew. So in that sense your general comments hang together.

    That election did a lot to consolidate Republicans' various factions in the form of Prop 187 which lost them the state for perhaps 75 years---we're still counting.  

    You have an absolutely ridiculous view of the democratic party and those posting at Dagblog. The democratic party is made up of as many diverse factions as the republican party.

    There is deep division within the Democratic party over the ACA. In fact more sophisticated polls show that division. Often short sighted ignorant republicans cite majority disapproval of the ACA not realizing that a substantial part of that disapproval comes from the democratic left that wanted at least a public option if not single payer.

    The democratic left is also upset over Guantanamo and drone strikes. There is disagreement among democrats over the stimulus that some feel was too small and others feel was heavily weighted toward propping up the status quo. There is a large number of democrats that see Obama as a poor negotiator willing to give up major points before the negotiations even begin and far to willing to cave in the negotiations.

    I really could go on and on and into much more detail on the deep divisions in the democratic party that are far wider than any in the republican party. But the best example is Senator Baucus and Senator Elizabeth Warren. No two senators in the republican party are as far apart as those two democrats.

    As with republicans, many who voted for Romney not out of support but as the least odious candidate, many democrats voted for Obama for the same reason. Its a pragmatic approach for many on both sides.

    Daggers, imo, are somewhat to the left of the president and the democratic party and are unhappy with much of the centrist policy Washington democrats seek. There are a few, like me, who are far to the left and wish the left was as successful at primary-ing democratic conservatives and moderates as the far right has successfully done to republican moderates.

    The difference between the parties are pretty stark on most issue. So voters on both sides are pretty polarized. I don't think either side sees its party as the party of god, but they will support it because both sides see the other party as fundamentally wrong on all the important issues. One large difference between the parties is the republicans, in the house especially, are ruled by their far right fringe while the democrats mostly ignore their far left.

    I'm pleased to learn that the Democratic Party is less monolithic than I thought.  Those who voted for Obama as the "less odious candidate" seldom make it into the media.  I'm also happy to hear that Daggers, too, are more diverse than my first impression.  But all this misses the point.

    My point was that Michael's observation (that the Republican Party behaves unpredictably) can be explained without resorting to a conspiracy (that it's a long term plan by Satan Koch).  Conspiracy theories are not always wrong (alas), but they are seldom right, and they encourage lazy thinking and dangerous behaviour.

    Except that Michael's observation already included your point about the diversity within the GOP. I assume you acknowledge the existence of the Koch brothers, Club for Growth, Freedomworks, etc.? If so, I assume that you also agree that each of these groups have some sort of motive to their spending? The existence of a "conspiracy" (i.e., that these groups have an approximately common motive) is hardly up there with the "grassy knoll" conspiracy, is it? (Depending on how one defines these things, it's not actually a conspiracy in that Michael's explanation doesn't require these groups to strategize with each other — unless you define a conspiracy as only requiring that an organization have a planned agenda, in which case, of course they do.) You might disagree with Michael's analysis of what that motive is, but then you'll have to admit that you're buying into the existence of the "conspiracy" and are just arguing details. (That said, arguing details is something we excel at here, so have at it!)

    That said, you might reasonably argue that the Club for Growth has a sufficiently different motive from the Koch brothers to argue for diversity there. However, your prior argument for diversity was missing the level at which Michael was discussing motive (as a couple other daggers have likewise missed that point).

    P.S. It's also a given that there are one or more "conspiracies" on the left, as well, as there are multiple organizations funding Democrats and left-leaning independents with motives of their own.

    The blog was about the insurgency within the Republican party which is a coordinated movement within the "right wing" of the Republican party against the "moderate wing" of the party. Calling the insurgency by a charged name like "conspiracy", an introduced definition you then denigrate, doesn't really add to an understanding or historical perspective of insurgencies---which was the purpose of Michael's blog.  

    "Insurgency" is just as loaded a term as "conspiracy".  If you want to lower the tone, how about "power struggle", or "changing of the guard", or even "debate about long-term strategy".  Sounds a lot less sinister, doesn't it?

    Lurker, so now you want to debate "sinister"? .

    "Power struggle," "changing of the guard," and "debate about long-term strategy" have very different meanings from "insurgency." The first suggests two equal factions. The second suggests an orderly transfer. The third offers no hint of conflict.

    Insurgency is definitely the right word. This is a classic political insurgency--a minority faction seeking to overturn the party leadership. It's odd to me that you find it offensive. Insurgencies are common and not inherently sinister. Indeed, an insurgency against a despotic authority is heroic.

    Maybe it's just a cultural difference.  "Insurgency", to me, connotes bombs and bloodshed.  Haven't you noticed that there are no longer any "terrorists" in some media, they've been replaced by "insurgents"?  I assumed that you had chosen the word because of its bloodthirsty connotations.

    You seem to mean something else by the word, though, something non-violent, more like a "takeover bid", or a "shareholders' rebellion".  I apologize for my ignorance.

    "Power struggle" does suggest two equal factions, as you say,  but so does "a two-sided civil war".  If "insurgency" means "a minority faction seeking to overturn the party leadership", what word would you use if the minority becomes a majority?


    PS For insurgency, see definition 3rebellion within a group, as by members against leaders.

    Lurker, what ideas were successfully promoted, and enshrined into the GOP firmament of achievement, during the 8 years of the Republican administration of George W. Bush?

    I have no idea.  I never said there were.

    Ideas, say what?

    Ideas are important.

    No ideas here.


    Oh, sorry, wrong thread.

    Lurker 10/12/2013 - 1:06 pm:

    ....the important goal is to reach people and spread their ideas and try to persuade others.  The Republican Party is simply a tool to help them do that....The ideas are more important than the party.

    Again, what ideas were successfully promoted, and enshrined into the GOP firmament of achievement, during the 8 years of the Republican administration of George W. Bush?

    Again, I have no idea.  The ideas I was talking about belong to party activists in the different factions.  I don't know if any were successfully implemented, and I never said that they were.  My guess is that none were, which may help to explain why the activists want to get rid of their present congressmen.  But that's just a guess.

    Thank you for coming out of the shadows, Lurker. The Republican Party used to be very heterogeneous, including everyone from Southern segregationists (Strom Thurmond) to Northeastern liberals (Nelson Rockefeller). It is much less so now, largely because the conservative insurgency has purged the liberals and most of the moderates.

    Of course, there are still different factions with different agendas--as there are in any party--but the main split looks increasingly like a two-sided civil war. The "Catholics" and "Hippies," as you label them, may not be natural allies, but they are actual allies in this conflict. (And they seem to cohabitate quite happily in politicians like Rand Paul, who champions libertarianism from one side of his mouth while deploring "the worldwide war on Christianity" from the other.)

    I do agree with you that the insurgents see the party as a means rather than an end, which is why they're so willing to defy the Republicans leaders. Partisans tend to much more obedient.

    As for Daggers and Democrats, I defer to others who have already responded, but I suggest that you have allowed your preconceptions to interfere with your perceptions.

    Thank you for replying.  I still disagree, though.

    Your argument, as I see it, boils down to this:

    1.  The Republicans are in disarray.

    2.  Those who fund the party are not fools.

    3.  The Party's implosion must be part of their long-term strategy.

    4.  Their plan is to get rid of liberal incumbents and replace them with unelectable fanatics.

    5.  This reminds me of Bob La Follette back in 1906....

    Where I take issue with you is the jump from 2 to 3.  All the Koch brothers, Club for Growth, Freedomworks, Heritage Foundation etc, put together, could not fill up a town hall meeting, let alone unseat an incumbent.  What moves masses of people is not money, it's passion.  To take the two examples I gave:  the "Catholics" believe they are preventing murder;  the "Hippies" believe they are fighting tyranny.  Both are worthy ideals, for which many would consider risking their lives.  If, in the process of fighting the good fight, they damage Republican election prospects, well, that's a small price to pay.

    You don't need to suppose a plot by shadowy figures to finance an "insurgency", ongoing since the 1970's, to explain the Republicans' shift to the right, any more than you would need a similar plot to explain the Democrats' shift to the left.  It's just a power struggle by committed factions trying to steer the party their way.  They may be "full of passionate intensity", as Yeats would have it, but I don't think they've been bought.

    I believe you are greatly underestimating the value of money in political campaigns. Either that or you are misunderstanding what we mean when we're talking about the power of money. We're not suggesting that Koch et al. are literally buying votes, but that they are funding both overt and covert means of creating that passion you're talking about, whether it's simple political advertising, influencing groups that already resonate with passion (e.g., the NRA, one or more tea party groups, AARP, unions, etc.), manipulating what the media reports, or some other tactic. If they didn't think these approaches delivered, they wouldn't be investing so much of their money in them.

    OK, I apologize for oversimplification, excusing myself on the grounds that a little blog post doesn't have much room. What I was trying to describe was a movement. Every movement has leaders. That doesn't mean some evil mastermind stroking a white cat. Movement leaders are rarely very "shadowy," their authority tends to be limited, and they often work at cross-purposes. Nonetheless, they are influential, and every successful movement requires effective leaders in addition to the grassroots passion you describe. (Contrast the fleeting success of Occupy Wall Street--lots of passion, no leaders.)

    In this particular case, the leaders of the Defund Obamacare campaign are easy to pinpoint, and they have been outspoken about their insurgent goals. As for the history of the American conservative insurgency, that takes a book to explain, but you can start by reading up on Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. He was also very explicit about his goals and his tactics. Again, he was not so powerful that he could change people's views with a flick of his pen, but he was very good at developing new strategies and organizing conservatives into a potent political force. The conservative movement owes far more to him than most people realize.

    Now if you don't believe that individuals can influence history, period, we're too far apart for this to mean anything to you. But please don't lump me with conspiracy theorists who fantasize that powerful conspirators determine everything just because I believe that movement leaders are historically significant.

    Good point about the Occupy Wall Streeters.  I've seen similar movements dry up in other countries.  I'm not sure it can be entirely explained by lack of leadership, since there have been other relatively leaderless movements which brought about long-term changes (think of the hippies in the 1960's, the real ones, without quotation marks).  But that's another topic....

    I do believe that individuals can influence history, and I have no quarrel with your answer.  But I suspect we've wandered a little from the original essay, or maybe I just misunderstood you:  are the "movement leaders" the same as the "right-wing fundraising groups"?

    That's the simplification for which I was apologizing. More accurately, the movement leaders include a mix of politicians, strategists, and fundraisers.

    Latest Comments