RHR Launches

The 2010 elections have ended, and the House and Senate Leadership choices have been made, but the Republican Party still faces yet one more crucial choice: selecting the next RNC Chairman.

Republicans Helping Republicans, has launched allowing you to “voice your choice” for who should be the next leader of the Republican National Committee. 2011 and 2012 will be very crucial election years for the Republican Party. We’ll need a strong RNC Chair to help lead this charge and to ensure that our candidates are equipped for the upcoming challenges.  Please visit and let your voice be heard. ---Princella P.S. Thursday morning (11/18/10), I’ll join Jansing & Co. on MSNBC at 10am Central / 11am Eastern and then a few more times within the hour. Will try to plug the site then, too. Tune in if you can! 


2010: Beat the Arrogant Establishment

After the March 2nd Texas primary, CNN proclaimed "Tea party changes tone, but not outcome of Texas primary." Politico's Jonathan Martin asks, "Is the tea party movement a paper tiger?" Locally, a San Angelo, Texas paper framed the result as "GOP incumbents held seats against Tea Party."

This is a classic straw man, and a dramatic misreading of the tea party's political objectives. 

Somehow, national media types got it into their heads that the tea party movement was the magic elixer for the kinds of unknown, underfunded and largely unskilled candidates who run in every race to claim the mantle of "tea party candidate" and knock off incumbents. A perusal of the Texas results at the Congressional level shows that the over/under for random, unknown unchallengers (a/k/a "tea party candidates") to incumbents was about 14%. This is basically the "none of the above" vote that materializes in every primary. When a prohibitive frontrunner has a semi-credible challenger, the frontrunner usually wins 70-30. Even when the challenger is unknown or unacceptable, 15 or 20 percent is doable. Convicted felon Lyndon LaRouche got that in some Democratic primaries against Bill Clinton in '96. 

Beyond that, the subtext is also that the tea party empowers uniquely conservative candidates, with Rubio/Crist as the model for every primary in the country. 

Again, no. 

It's clear that there is a lot more primary activity than there was in '06 and '08, largely because the prospects of getting elected as a Republican this year are so good. And in those primaries, proclaiming oneself a "tea party candidate" is about as fashionable as proclaiming oneself a "social media expert."

Going state by state and district by district, the case for conservative ascendancy in primaries is muddled at best. For every Rubio/Crist, there is a Mark Kirk walk-in-the-park. The '08 primaries showed that Republican primary voters are if nothing else pragmatic. 

A few basic misconceptions underlie the expectation that the more conservative the primary candidate, the better their chances are at winning. And the main one is that conservatives are uniquely advantaged this year because the tea parties show the party is moving right. 

This notion would require one to believe that the grassroots base of the GOP -- not its leaders, but its base -- was somehow un-conservative prior to '09 and '10. There's no evidence for that. Fueled by Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, 1994 was a conservative year. In fact, 1994 probably marked the end of the shift in the ascendancy of conservatives over moderates in Republican grassroots politics, a shift that started with Goldwater. Ever since '94, the ideological change within the Republican Party has been marginal at best.

What has changed in the last two years, is that Republicans are now unshackled from having to defend the Bush Administration and the mood of the country, and inside the Republican Party in particular, has grown more solidly anti-establishment. Those changes alone can explain the emergence of the tea party movement. 

While the case for conservative ascendancy in primaries is muddled, what isn't muddled is this: run as the milquetoast candidate of the arrogant establishment, and you lose. 

Practically every electorally relevant example points in this direction. 

NY-23? Check. 

Florida Senate? Check.

Massachusetts? Check. 

Texas Governor? Check. 

In Texas, the tea party candidate was not Debra Medina. It was Rick Perry, whose political fortunes were revived around the Tax Day tea parties last year. That points to a movement that is much more broadly relevant than the marginal nutjob candidacies that media is holding up as an example of the movement's failures. I know that one can point to Medina strength among the organizers -- and I've certainly played up the role Ron Paul's brigades have played in that effort -- but there is a convincing case that the rank-and-file attendees and their compatriots who followed from the radio dial or Fox News were solidly with Perry. And that's who matters when delivering votes in a primary, as opposed to a straw poll. 

But more importantly, the movement was aligned against Kay Bailey Hutchison, who barely disguised her sense of entitlement at holding not one, but two statewide offices. Strike one was trying to elbow aside Perry with a blatant "It's my turn" appeal not to run again, and then going ahead with a challenge. Strikes two and three were the Texas Two-Step around resigning her office, which, quelle surprise, will likely end up with Hutchison holding on to public office against her word. 

The KBH fall is of a piece with the staggering fall of "All About Charlie" Crist, who ran on a sense of entitlement before he finished the job voters elected him to do. Only a few words need to be said about Charlie Crist: pride before the fall. 

And NY-23 was a similar case of an arrogant establishment attempting to oppose its will against that of primary voters, and getting pwned in the process. 

Do you see a pattern here? 

Yes, each of these cases was one of a "conservative" beating a "moderate" -- but each also had the essential ingredient of a particularly noxious stench of self-entitlement on the part of the losers. 

As ever, public servants need to place the emphasis on the latter part of that title: servant. Those advantaged by a long career of winning elections need to be particularly humble and even servile to the will of the electorate, especially in this environment. Votes cannot be assumed. They must be earned. 

There is no easy template for tea party victory in a Republican primary. Saying you are Marco Rubio does not make you Marco Rubio. Rubio's success is due as much to Crist's arrogance and the movement-like aura Rubio has been able to build around himself as it is to a simple ideological contrast. Those whose job it is to run and win elections quickly learn that attributes -- those pesky personal qualities like honesty, integrity, intelligence, and authenticity -- matter a whole lot more than issues, even in primaries. This is not diminish the importance of principle but to acknowledge the reality that it alone is not enough, and having a good, plausible candidate, campaign, and message still matters a whole lot. 

The Iron Steele

You can argue with me on this point, but the question remains.

Why has no one asked for Steele's resignation?  Upon reading this story regarding his spending as leader of the GOP establishment, I seriously want to know how this man is still employed. 

With no exceptional leadership qualities, and continual string of Steele-specific faux wonder the GOP is having problems.

I call for new leadership.


Benko's Attack: Setting the Record Straight

This morning I awoke to a "public flogging of Patrick Ruffini" from Ralph Benko, an enthusiastic proponent of new media in the conservative movement in D.C. He was responding to my recent piece on the "Obama Disconnect" -- the lively debate surrounding Organizing for America and Obama's loss of grassroots mojo from the campaign.

Ralph attempts to connect my skeptical view of Organizing for America (and indeed the Obama campaign) to disdain for the tea party movement. It's a pretty big leap, and one superseded by my numerous posts on the actual tea party movement (here, here, and here). 

Erick Erickson has come out in my defense but highlights this quote he says is "rubbing people the wrong way:" 


Now, what happens when the campaign goes away? What happens when the enthusiasm inevitably ebbs and the hard work of governing begins? The immediate benefits of a bottom-up strategy become less clear. You revert to traditional instincts, where powerful obstacles stand in the way of getting things done — even amongst your base, and the wielding of massive political machinery cannot be left to amateurs.

This would be damning if it were actually about the conservative movement, but it's not. It's about Obama, and the shift from the faux-bottom up ethos of the campaign to the top-down work of governance. Actively throughout the post, I was putting myself in the shoes of a David Axelrod, first (some might say cynically) embracing the "bottom-up" energy of supporters in the campaign because of their financial and organizational strength, then jettisoning them when that enthusiasm invariably ebbed when they came into power. Isn't the story of Massachusetts right now the extremely fired up Republican base versus the listless, moribund Democratic base? The quote is a commentary on the reality of Democratic politics right now, not the very opposite phenomenon that is the dominant reality in the Republican party. 

There is a legitimate question of what happens when a party comes to power, and the role of the grassroots in that shift.

There is no question that grassroots politics is harder when you are in power. That is just a fact that I think requires no further explanation. The / OFA base is not in the room when Obama horsetrades on health care with Harry Reid, the unions, or the Blue Dogs. This invariably leads to compromises the left doesn't like. But, news flash: there were lots of things the right didn't like about the Bush Administration, from Medicare Part D to the bailouts. And I would remind Ralph that I advised a party-line Republican vote against the bailout.

Does the base tend to get sold down the river more when one is actually in power? Yes. Do I like that, as Ralph suggests I do? No. But I am also realistic enough to recognize that it's a distasteful reality and the price of actually being in office. And that's ultimately why you have a movement: to minimize deviation from principle as much as possible and to set standards for those pesky professional power-wielders. 

Right now, the right is in a different moment. The role of the movement is not to serve as a check on the elected officials because the elected officials are largely irrelevant. The role of the movement is to expand the opportunities for capturing ground as much as possible. Massachusetts would not have been possible without the grassroots deciding to make this the cause it did. If we win, it will be their victory. And the fact that a victory will have a profound and lasting effect on the policy of the United States is the ultimate testament to things the grassroots can do that the establishment can't. 


The Grassroots Versus the Establishment

Sarah Palin has polarized the establishment from the grassroots in a way we haven't seen in quite some time. This is happening both within the GOP and in the war between the GOP and the media/Democrats. Establishment Republican consultants are still waiting for Palin's first  round of interviews to declare this a done deal, though the speech last night went a long way towards assuaging their initial concerns.

But the fact still remains that if you are thrilled about Palin, you have a grassroots sensibility. If you are not, you have an elite/establishment sensibility. The delegates on the floor are the grassroots. Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan are the elite. The dividing lines have always been there, but Palin provides the ultimate litmus test.

You can put me firmly with the grassroots on this one.

Before Palin, McCain was running an establishment campaign. He had a conventional strategy, relied on big dollar fundraisers, and didn't fire up the base. Part of this was who John McCain is -- he is not instinctively a red meat kind of guy. While McCain's bipartisan bona fides allow him to run stronger than a generic Republican, it was unclear that he could get the volunteer energy to squeeze out those last three points that only a good GOTV operation can bring. That's because the party faced an almost epic enthusiasm gap. This enthusiasm gap threatened to negate any of the benefits of McCain's bipartisanship. McCain's initial approach would bring him close -- but not close enough.

Palin injected a badly needed jolt of people power into the campaign. The maverick spirit is not gone. It's been reinforced in some key ways. McCain is still the same bipartisan guy he always was -- but Palin provides the grassroots with a reason to crawl on glass to make the phone calls and knock on doors and get out the vote. We didn't have that before. We have it now. Polls don't completely factor it in -- and the establishment tends to discount it as playing to the base. But it is the dark matter of campaigns -- that stuff that gives the campaign a good vibe that lets it put its best foot forward. 

Last night represented a triumph of grassroots politics in a campaign we thought had left it for dead. And just as with Republican icons before, the establishment will once again be proven timid and wrong. 

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