Parents of spoiled children are known to dread Christmas morning on years when it isn’t certain that the present inside the box is what little Chase or Caitlin wants. “Are we in for a tantrum?” they think to themselves. It is with similar trepidation that George Packer is observing Election 2012. If Mitt Romney wins the nomination but loses the general election, the GOP “will continue down into the same dark hole where Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum, and now Gingrich all lurk,” he writes, drawing on lessons he gleaned from Election 1972.
All plausible! So are the rebuttals that Noah Millman and Daniel Larison offer. But my theory about what happens if the GOP loses is based on the proposition that the future of the conservative movement and its influence on Republicans is a business story as much as a political one.
Think of it this way. If Mitt Romney loses, these are all things that you can count on happening:
Fox News is going to keep stoking the cultural resentments and victimhood pathology of white conservatives, and rewarding politicians who appeal to that ethos with lucrative commentator contracts politicians. Put another way, the incentives for more Sarah Palins and Michele Bachmanns will be there.
Rush Limbaugh is going to keep attracting a sizable audience with his talent for the medium, his schtick implying that the Obama “regime” is illegitimate, and his endless ability to flatter the prejudices of his audience.
The conservative publishing market will keep rewarding Mark Levin-style books that proceed as if America is engaged in a simple binary struggle, with liberty on one side and a series of interchangeable bogeymen on the other: tyranny, utopia, radical Islam, political correctness, liberals, secularists, etc.
See, all the commentary you see about the right and its future takes as its starting point the notion of 2008 as a historic defeat. For folks whose highest priority is conservative governance, that’s what it was — eight years of frustration, betrayal, and disillusionment, culminating in a huge defeat.
But the period from 2000 to 2012 has been lucrative as hell if you’re Roger Ailes or Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin or Andrew Breitbart or Sarah Palin. That isn’t to say they don’t earnestly want Republicans to win, or that they’re faking their preference for conservative governance. It’s just to say that advancing their careers or enterprises is seemingly their priority. As swimmingly as that project is proceeding, why would anyone expect them to change course?
It isn’t their reality that’s come crashing down. They’ve never been so successful before in their lives!
This is what happens when an ideological movement basically merges with a collection of for-profit ventures. Incentives no longer align. Ends and means get mixed up. Herman Cain book tours turn into seemingly viable presidential campaigns. And Donald Trump is asked to host a debate.
Movement conservatism’s entertainers aren’t the only people influencing the Republican Party, as is evident at four year intervals, when the GOP electorate chooses a champion the entertainers hate. But most GOP voters aren’t political junkies. In between elections, when most Republicans stop paying attention to politics, the relatively sizable Fox News and talk radio audiences can wield disproportionate influence on everything from legislative agendas to off-year elections. And TV personalities, talk-radio hosts, and ideological Web sites serve as the right’s intellectuals, determining what ideas get out to the junkies, and later to the rank-and-file.
The right has other intellectuals who actually care about things like policy, governing, and intellectual honesty. What many of them don’t realize is that until they meaningfully challenge the Conservative Entertainment Complex, their ideas and the direction they hope to push the conservative movement is always going to be overshadowed: by Birthers, or a righteous Andrew Breitbart/James O’Keefe crusade against ACORN, or the Glenn Beck show, or months of speculation about whether Sarah Palin will run for president. That is to say, they’ll be overshadowed by what looks like a part of the political movement, but is largely a moneymaking venture.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, February 2, 2012
In retrospect, the transformation began the way most major changes in society begin: without anyone fully realizing what was taking place. Yes, when the Supreme Court handed down its 2010 Citizens United decision — allowing virtually unlimited spending by corporations and individuals to sway elections — there was a fair amount of outrage, mostly from the left. President Barack Obama, then in his first term, spoke out against what he called the corporate takeover of our democracy. But even those who imagined the threat posed by this unfettered influence could not have conceived of what would happen in the years that followed.
It started slowly. The so-called “super PACs” inserted themselves in congressional races. They ran a number of deeply misleading ads across the country. And they even took on roles traditionally associated with the political parties and candidates. But in those early days, the influence of these groups was limited: First, there were a lot of super PACs competing with campaigns and each other for donations and political talent. Second, they were prevented by law from coordinating with candidates.
But that all changed after the election in 2012.
Barack Obama’s narrow victory came after a brutal campaign in which the parties spent some $2 billion, yet were almost matched dollar for dollar by outside groups. The airwaves in swing states were saturated with a level of political vitriol not seen in this country since the days before the Civil War. The lack of coordination between PACs and candidates, however, meant that while people were inundated with ads, the messages were often competing and disjointed, forgotten as soon as the commercial break was over. Voters were angry, confused, frightened, and unmoved.
After the president’s reelection, a group of senior Republican operatives, joined by energy executives, Christian conservatives, and wealthy Republican donors, gathered to commiserate over the outcome of the race, and to plot the way forward. But the meeting quickly devolved into chaos. Karl Rove and representatives of Crossroads GPS, his super PAC, nearly came to blows with Mitt Romney’s campaign team — both sides slinging accusations as to who allowed the election to slip through their fingers.
Then a junior staffer, there only to take notes, stood up.
“This is the problem,” he said quietly.
Karl Rove, holding a folding chair over the prone and weeping form of Eric Fehrnstrom, paused. “What is it, son? Speak up.”
“This,” he said, taking a deep breath. “This is the first time any of us have been in the same room together.”
Grover Norquist, who took shelter behind a potted plant at the first sign of trouble, stood up and cleared his throat. “But we were barred by law, kid. Sure, the leaders of PACs can talk, but what use is it if we can’t coordinate with the campaigns?”
Karl unfolded the chair and sat down, his mind turning. “What if…” Karl squinted, shined an apple on his shirt, and took a bite. “What if there are no campaigns to coordinate with?”
Soon after, Crossroads GPS merged with the remnants of the pro-Romney “Restore our Future” super PAC, and absorbed other smaller organizations as well. With unlimited resources and few disclosure requirements, this new entity, TruePAC, had the funds to hire away talented staffers and operatives from the national party and campaigns. TruePAC enlisted polling firms, direct mail distributors, and other mainstays of traditional political operations. And Rove traveled the country delivering what became known as the PACs Americana Speech to convince bundlers and major donors to eschew traditional campaigns and parties to support his new organization.
His answer to a ban on coordination was to make coordination irrelevant. The PAC would be the campaign. The campaign would be the PAC. Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, campaigns really only existed to meet filing deadlines and conduct paperwork; beyond this, the real difference between an official campaign and a political action committee was a bunch of onerous rules and restrictions.
And who needed those?
Democrats, slow to see the power of this new model, were overwhelmed by the onslaught that followed. Republicans took the White House and Congress in an election defined by TruePAC’s famous slogan, “ARGHHHHHHH,” which was shouted by children being pushed into a volcano. It was then that the last vestiges of the labor movement, Hollywood moguls like the chairman of NBC Hulu Universal, prominent trial lawyers, and wealthy liberal activists decided it was time to fight fire with fire. They created what became known as GoodPAC, which soon leveled the playing field.
In the coming years, GoodPAC and TruePAC waged a cold war, with candidates as their proxies, and advertisements as their arsenal. Campaigns became mere shells, with a skeleton staff on hand to secure signatures to gain ballot access and to file the requisite financial disclosures, which no one cared about anymore, because they were pretty much blank. Eventually, candidates stopped campaigning all together, fearing that any appearance would give TruePAC or GoodPAC more recent footage that could be used in their horrible, blood-curdling advertisements.
These tactics were of little use, however, as both PACs hired artists to ‘render’ versions of the other side in various animal and arachnid forms. Soon, people forgot which parties they originally favored, and came to identify with GoodPAC or TruePAC alone. After a while, the elections almost blended together. It was easy to think that GoodPAC had always been at war with TruePAC.
In time, supporters of GoodPAC and TruePAC grew more and more polarized, often refusing to live in the same parts of town. Campaigns were loud and garish affairs with long marches and slogans shouted in support of candidates rarely ever met or seen. The saddest part is, the elections themselves were usually decided by just a few votes, with the ballot counting extending for months or longer. Sometimes, you never even hear about who wins.
What’s strange is, I could swear that there have been times when the PACs have switched views to what the other PAC held in the last election. And there even are rumors that some companies support both PACs. It’s hard to know, because there are no disclosures. But I don’t understand how anyone could support both GoodPAC and TruePAC when they have such wildly different principles. Honestly, I’m not even sure if the members of TruePAC are people at all. They seem so awful, and lack the values that made this country strong. Are they rats? I think they may be giant rats.
At this point, I only know two things:
One, we have to do something — anything — to wrestle control of our government away from these powerful interests that distort our debate and limit our choices; that would scare us and divide us and deny us a voice in our political process, in our democracy.
And two, I hate with every fiber of my being the candidates backed by TruePAC, and I will do all that is in my power to help elect the decent, honest people who have earned the support of GoodPAC. So will you help us defeat the dragon-faced rat monsters who are out to destroy this country?
Which side are you on?
By: Jon Lovett, The Atlantic, February 2, 2012
It’s simple: When workers gain some leverage, it gets a little harder to generate totally obscene profits.
It’s always such a shame when the interests of labor don’t match up with the priorities of capital. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that new claims for jobless benefits fell again last week. But in a Wall Street Journal roundup of reactions to the news, one economist found reason for concern.
Deutsche Bank’s Alan Ruskin observed that the rate at which productivity — the amount of goods and services produced per worker — is growing is beginning to slow down in the United States.
We are at the point in the cycle where squeezing any more output from the existing labor force, with the current capital stock, becomes more difficult and attempts to raise output, force an increase in employment or at least employee hours. The good news is that we are closer to the point where a virtuous cycle of increased demand, driving increased employment and income, generating more demand, is in place. The flip side is that the rise in wages relative to output pushes up unit labor costs and undermines productivity, and could chip into the record profit share of income with some negative implications for equities.
In other words, stock prices could slump because an increase in the demand for labor will put upward pressure on wages. For the vast majority of Americans, this is fantastic news. For the 1 percent, not so much.
The news inspires memories of the go-go days of the dot-com boom, when the stock market greeted every new monthly release of gangbuster job growth numbers with a sharp sell-off. Wall Street doesn’t like it when American workers are in demand. That’s either the most heartening news yet about the nascent economic recovery, or the most maddening.
By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, February 2, 2012
Bankers are supposed to be the personifications of economic reasoning, but anyone looking at the financial reports of the presidential candidates and super PACs that have come out this week might conclude that there’s more to their political calculations than dollars and cents. Indeed, what these reports fairly shout is that Wall Street’s political picks have been swayed by offended egos and tribalism.
Of course, there’s a straight dollars-and-cents rationale for the bankers’ flight from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney. Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich; Romney wants to lower them. But the sheer extent of Wall Street’s support for Romney suggests that there’s even more in play than that. As Sam Stein and Paul Blumenthal of the Huffington Post have documented, Goldman Sachs employees, who gave Obama more than a million bucks in his first White House run, gave Romney $106,000 in the final quarter of 2011 and Obama just $12,000. Citigroup’s bankers, who gave Obama $730,000 in 2008, gave him just $3,842 in the last three months of 2011, while lavishing $196,000 on Romney. At Blackstone Private Equity, whose chair, Steven Schwarzman, compared the administration’s (tepid) efforts to raise taxes on private-equity firms to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, employees gave Obama just $7,618 while Romney raked in $90,750.
By one measure—the current popularity of Wall Street—Romney picked a poor year to likely become the first presidential nominee to hail from finance. But precisely because Wall Street is (finally! rightly!) under attack as it has not been since the early 1930s, Wall Street is looking for its own political champion as well as economic guardian, and Romney certainly fits the bill. And because Wall Street—both its people and its companies—can donate more than ever before, thanks to Citizens United, Romney also picked a very good year to run: His brethren can give him more than they could in any previous election.
The extent of their Romney support—and, as a corollary, the narrowness of Romney’s funding base—really becomes clear in the financial reports of Romney’s super PAC, set up by his backers to fund all those negative commercials that Romney himself wouldn’t want to endorse. By the end of 2011, it had raised $30.2 million from just 265 donors. Ten million of that came from just ten donors, each contributing a million apiece. Of the eight donors who are identifiable, as a New York Times article by onetime Prospect writing fellow Nick Confessore and Michael Luo documented, six are hedge-fund or private-equity executives. With a base like that, what are the odds that a President Romney is going to scrap the carried interest tax break?
The financial sharpies aren’t just giving to Romney, of course. Texas leveraged-buyout-operator Harold Simmons, who provided most of the funding for the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004, is back. Last year, he ponied up a cool $7 million for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC. And casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife have kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign afloat by showering $10 million on the pro-Newt super PAC.
The big money is mobilizing against Obama, and it would be a mistake to assume that Obama will be able to outspend Romney come next fall. In the final quarter of 2011, Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $93.4 million while Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised $68 million, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.
For Mitt Romney, it is the best of times; it is the worst of times. The public really dislikes big-time bankers, big-time shadow bankers most of all. Meanwhile, big-time bankers, and big-time shadow bankers in particular, like Mitt Romney, their very own big-time shadow banker, and thanks to Citizens United are able to shovel him more money than ever before. He’s their blood and they are his—cold-blooded brothers to the end.
By: Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect, February 3, 2012
Ron Paul has coyly batted away questions about a potential third-party run, prompting frequent speculation that he might launch an independent bid. But Paul is almost certainly just trying to increase his leverage. He has been a loyal ally to Mitt Romney, his influential chief ad-maker is married to a Romney consultant, and, as Amy Gardner reports, Paul and Romney have developed a close friendship:
Despite deep differences on a range of issues, Romney and Paul became friends in 2008, the last time both ran for president. So did their wives, Ann Romney and Carol Paul. The former Massachusetts governor compliments the Texas congressman during debates, praising Paul’s religious faith during the last one, in Jacksonville, Fla. Immediately afterward, as is often the case, the Pauls and the Romneys gravitated toward one another to say hello.
Not to mention the fact that a Confederacy-loving, pro–John Birch Society, 1964 Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Day–hating paleolibertarian who feels ideologically comfortable with white supremacists (all for entirely non-racial reasons, of course!) is not going to want to help reelect Barack Obama, which a third-party candidacy would all but guarantee.
Paul’s game is to trade his supporters for a seat at the Republican table. Gardner has some good reporting about his efforts to cultivate serious long-term sway within the GOP. His followers are burrowing within party organizations across the country.
This will create an interesting tension within the existing party coalition. There’s little direct disagreement within the Republican coalition about policy — neoconservatives dominate foreign affairs, supply-siders control economic policy, and religious conservatives hold sway over the judiciary and other social policy. The disputes arise in settling priorities. Economic conservatives have increasingly come to dominate the party, and the growing influence of Paul raises the possibility that the party will come to be defined almost entirely in economic terms. That is the explicit goal of figures like powerful senator Jim DeMint, who welcomes Paul’s influence:
The debate in the Republican Party needs to be between libertarians and conservatives, that’s what our party needs to be about. There’s no longer room for moderates and liberals because we don’t have any money to spend, so I don’t want to be debating with anyone who wants to grow government.”
Meanwhile, you have figures like Bill Kristol, who cares mostly about foreign policy, some about social issues, and is pretty much willing to go along with any economic policy that advances those other goals. Kristol sees his allies being relegated to second-class status, and he does not like it one bit:
“A lot of people when they criticize Ron Paul have to preface their criticism by saying, ‘you know, he’s good guy, he brings a lot to the debate,’” Bill Kristol said on C-SPAN. “I actually don’t buy that. I do not think he’s a particular good guy . . . I think it would be better for the Republican party, if he left the Republican party.”
That’s not going to happen, at least not during this election cycle. The question will arise if Romney wins, and Paul has to decide where and how to exert his newfound influence. Romney might offer some nice words about Paul’s goldbuggery now, but there’s no way he would ever give even a smidgen of influence to a crank economic theory if he’s in office and has political skin in the game. He’s also taken a staunchly nationalistic, hawkish line on foreign policy. Would Paul have a fuss over these things, or be content to just push harder for tax and spending cuts?
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, February 2, 2012