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“The Company He Keeps”: Tea Party Unloads On ‘Complete Imbecile’ Rick Perry

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last month on two felony charges stemming from how he dealt with a misbehaving Democratic state official, the image of the stuttering 2012 Republican primary challenger was replaced with that of a hero-cowboy in the eyes of many conservatives. Perry was under attack from the left wing, and his response was not to apologize but to walk through a hail of blue-hued bullets and emerge laughing, without a mark on him. But some conservative true believers have begun to notice something rather suspicious: The company Perry keeps seems more suited to a mainstream Republican—or a right-of-center Democrat—than to their hero-cowboy.

Perry is associated with three operatives who have concerned some members of the die-hard right wing: lobbyist Henry Barbour, former Bill Clinton aide Mark Fabiani, and McCain-Palin campaign chief and MSNBC pundit Steve Schmidt.

Well, maybe “concerned” is putting it somewhat mildly.

“The only two options are that Rick Perry is a complete imbecile and he has no idea who these people are and what they’ve done and how the conservative base—who votes in primaries—feels about these guys, or he’s doing it on purpose because that’s the kind of message he wants to send,” said Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. Either way, she assured: “It will be an issue. We will make it an issue.”

Barbour is already working on Perry’s 2016 bid for the White House. But conservatives know him best for his role running the political action committee Mississippi Conservatives, founded by his uncle, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi. In this year’s Magnolia State primary fight—and “fight” is an understatement—between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Barbour reportedly played an influential and controversial role. According to National Review, his PAC funneled money to produce ads against McDaniel that alleged he would set back “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups.” The ads, which seemed intended to drive African-American voters to the polls, enraged McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters.

As reported by Breitbart News, some conservatives loathe Barbour so much that they tried to get the Republican National Committee to censure him, to no avail.

“Republicans should not hire Henry Barbour unless and until he apologizes for the tactics he helped fund in Mississippi…I don’t think [keeping Barbour around] necessarily means Perry is endorsing what he did, but it means he’s certainly not properly condemning it or taking it seriously enough,” Quin Hillyer, a conservative writer and activist, told The Daily Beast. “What he helped finance was so far beyond the pale that he should be blackballed by conservatives, and if Perry wants to be considered a conservative, he should no longer employ Henry Barbour.”

Rick Shaftan, a Republican consultant who involved himself in the Mississippi primary, offered a somewhat different view of Barbour to The Daily Beast: “I don’t like what he did in Mississippi, but you know what? It shows he’s a ruthless, cutthroat operative, and there’s something to be said for that on the Republican side. Because we don’t have enough of them. If the force of evil can be brought to do good, then that’s a good thing.”

Normally, staffers don’t matter much to voters, Carender noted. But Mississippi is different for many on the far right. It’s become the ultimate test of Tea Party fidelity, a measuring stick for whether a conservative will sell out his principles to inside-the-Beltway Washington RINOs or will stay true to the cause and the grassroots activists who are the heart and soul of the movement.

People don’t recognize, Carender said, just “how plugged in the conservative base is to Mississippi…If you’re a man of integrity, you don’t associate with Henry Barbour as far as we’re concerned.”

Perry has associated with Barbour since at least 2012, when Barbour served on his ill-fated but memorable presidential campaign. (Haley Barbour, for his part, supported Newt Gingrich.)

Publicly, Perry may have shrugged at last month’s indictment—but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been taking Lone Star State-size measures to ensure it doesn’t sink him for good.

As part of his legal team, Perry has hired the Harvard-educated Mark Fabiani, best known for his ties to the Democratic Party. From 1994 through 1996, Fabiani worked as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He then served as Al Gore’s communications director during his 2000 presidential campaign. Fabiani has worked for the Democratic former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as well.

Perry also has hired Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former consultant to John McCain in 2008. Schmidt has long enraged Tea Party conservatives with his candor about members of his own party. Schmidt has called McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin, “someone [who] was nominated to the vice presidency who was manifestly unprepared to take the oath of office should it become necessary and as it has become necessary many times in American history.” Asked whether Palin would have a future in politics, Schmidt once remarked: “I hope not…And the reason I say that is because if you look at it, over the last four years, all of the deficiencies in knowledge, all of the deficiencies in preparedness, she’s done not one thing to rectify them, to correct them.”

Then Schmidt described Palin’s unflattering qualities, which could, unfortunately for Perry, double as descriptions for most members of the Tea Party: “She has become a person who, I think, is filled with grievance, filled with anger, who has a divisive message for the national stage…”

Conservative radio host Mark Levin wondered of Schmidt, “Why would Perry hire this conservative attacker and Palin hater?”

Schmidt made those comments on MSNBC, where he is employed as a political analyst. Shaftan said of Perry hiring the strategist: “If they have Steve Schmidt working for them, why are they telling people? That I don’t understand.”

Perry has been basking in the glory of the conservative credibility his fight with Texas Democrats has lent him—so much so that his mugshot features a prominent smirk, one you can wear on a T-shirt being sold by his PAC for just $25. Some Republicans made that same image their Facebook profile pictures in a show of support, in the way some do for gay marriage, or to end violence against children. But you’re only as good as the company you keep, according to some members of the far right who have in the past proved themselves to be loud enough to get their way.

Conservative HQ columnist Richard Viguerie wrote of Perry’s team: “When you hire a consultant, you hire his reputation, strategy, and tactics. We doubt that Governor Perry plans to win the Republican presidential nomination by race-baiting, recruiting Democrats to vote in Republican primary elections, and trashing as ‘poisonous’ conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh…”

Hillyer agreed: “A very important law of politics and government, as emphasized again and again by conservative movement leader Morton Blackwell, is that personnel is policy. If somebody wants to get a sense of how a political leader might govern, it certainly is important to see who he hires.”

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Rick Perry, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The South’s Lesson For The Tea Party”: Will They Reject The Siren Song Of Nativism And Populism?

Last week’s Republican primary in Tennessee resulted in a comfortable win for Senator Lamar Alexander over his Tea Party-backed challenger, State Assembly Representative Joe Carr. But make no mistake: The Tea Party is on a roll across the South, having mounted major primary challenges in Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina, and knocked out Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The movement’s success, with its dangerous froth of anti-Washington posturing and barely concealed racial animus, raises an important question for Southern voters: Will they remember their history well enough to reject the siren song of nativism and populism that has won over the region so often before?

We often think of the typical segregationist politician of yore as a genteel member of the white upper crust. But the more common mode was the fiery populist. Names like Thomas E. Watson of Georgia, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman of South Carolina and James K. Vardaman and Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi may be obscure outside the South, but for most anyone brought up here, they loom large.

In the early 20th century, these men rose on an agrarian revolt against Big Business and government corruption. They used that energy, in turn, to disenfranchise and segregate blacks, whose loyalty to the pro-business Republican Party made them targets of these racist reformers.

Their activities spawned a second wave of Southern Democratic populists, who defied federal court orders and civil rights legislation during the 1960s, even as more moderate politicians were moving on. Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, among others, portrayed himself as a tribune of the working class while championing segregation.

It’s hard not to hear echoes of those eras today. Tea Party candidates have targeted federal taxes and spending, while attacking Chamber of Commerce interests and the leadership of the Republican Party. Racism has been replaced with nativism in their demands for immigration restrictions, but the animosity toward the “other” is the same. And there remains a whiff of the ancient fumes of bitter-end resistance: Chris McDaniel, a state senator who took Senator Thad Cochran into a runoff in Mississippi, still refuses to accept the validity of the election.

Mr. McDaniel had all the bona fides of an old-time demagogue. He was once a conservative radio talk show host who dabbled in ethnic innuendo. He made appearances before neo-Confederate organizations. When Mr. Cochran solicited votes in the runoff from black Mississippians, Mr. McDaniel’s supporters vowed to monitor polling places in black-majority precincts, a move reminiscent of old-fashioned Election Day intimidation.

Tea Party spokesmen, as well as the Republican establishment, complain that the movement was unfairly trumped by a race card. Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster working for Mr. Alexander, says the movement isn’t racist, but rather it represents people “who are economically pressed, who feel betrayed, who feel leaders in Washington caused their housing values to decline, for their retirement accounts to plummet.”

But that’s precisely the point, and the hope, for those worried about the Tea Party insurgency. What looks like a mounting wave may have reached its crest this year, running up against the many Southerners — white and black, liberal and conservative — who know well how such passions were once perverted by demagogues.

It’s trite to recall William Faulkner’s line about the past not being the past, but Southerners do remember their history: A considerable body of literature about the populist rebellion was once required reading in college for a generation of Mississippians old enough to remember the second reactionary period 50 years ago.

In “The Mind of the South,” still in print seven decades after it was published, W. J. Cash wrote that populist forces in the region were driven by “the rage and frustration of men intolerably oppressed by conditions which they did not understand and which they could not control.” And A. D. Kirwan’s 1951 history, “Revolt of the Rednecks,” traced the political rise of the Mississippi racists Vardaman and Bilbo to the disillusionment of white farmers who felt “forgotten” and singled out by “an enemy class” of Wall Street speculators and railroad owners backed by big government. The economic struggle, Kirwan wrote, was “complicated by the Negro,” who became a victim of the politicians’ zeal to prevent blacks from holding any power.

Education became their whipping boy. A century ago, the first wave of populist demagogues withheld funds for poor, segregated schools and tried to purge college faculties of nonbelievers. The second wave, citing “states’ rights,” threatened to shut schools rather than integrate and denounced federal aid to education as a sinister investment. In the Cochran-McDaniel race, you could hear that same strain in Tea Party criticisms of the federal government, of federal aid to education and of the “establishment.”

Over a century ago, demagogues did more than anyone to impose the system of strict segregation that lasted until the 1960s. The second wave, though successful in some places, was turned back in others, by moderate, middle-class Southern whites who were tired of seeing their region isolated and stigmatized. With Mr. Cantor’s loss, Mr. Cochran’s narrow survival and Mr. Alexander’s clear victory, we are faced with an open, and very unsettling question: Which way will the South go this time?

 

August 14, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Tea Party, The South | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“They’ll Be Waiting A Long Time”: The Illusory Conservative Campaign For The “Right” Minority Voters

I’ve been pretty harsh about the racial aspects of Team Chris McDaniel’s argument that the MS GOP SEN runoff was “stolen” from him. But let’s bend over backwards to be fair and adopt Dave Weigel’s interpretation of what hyper-conservatives mean when they complain about the “wrong kind” of appeals to African-Americans:

The Tea Party, a movement that helped elect Allen West to Congress and helped make Herman Cain—Herman Cain!—a presidential contender, and wants to elect Mia Love to Congress in Utah, believes that conservatives can win black votes while remaining conservative. When West talks about escaping “the liberal plantation,” that’s what he means. The “racist” party is the one that wins black votes by promising largesse, and the colorblind party aims to win them by talking free markets and social values.

Taking this seriously, of course, means ignoring the thousands of dog whistles blown during the endless Tea Party efforts to demonize “looters” and “food stamps” and “voter fraud”–and of course, the first African-American president. There’s no binary choice on the table either to offer minority voters “largesse” or to attack their integrity, work ethic, and even patriotism for participating in federal programs when they qualify for them. The whole “plantation” meme beloved particularly of African-American conservatives is an ongoing insult bordering on a blood libel, which is why you don’t find many African-Americans supporting Allen West or Herman Cain.

But intentions aside, if conservatives are waiting for the “right” kind of Republican appeal to attract the “right” kind of minority voters, they’ll be waiting a long time. The simple fact is that the already-meager Republican share of the minority vote has been steadily sliding since the GOP began its latest lurch to the Right. George W. Bush won 11% of the African-American vote and 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. In 2008 John McCain won 4% of the African-American vote and 31% of the Latino vote, and in 2012 Mitt Romney won 6% of the African-American vote and 27% of the Latino vote. That’s a pretty calamitous decline, and any conservative unwilling to admit that endless GOP attacks on “redistribution” and “illegal immigrants” and “welfare” has nothing to do with that is either dishonest or smoking crack.

Check out the language in this tweet over the weekend from McDaniel campaign manager (and state legislator) Melanie Sojourner, made in the course of saying she’d never endorse the “race-baiting” Thad Cochran:

Throughout my campaign and since I’ve repeatedly made comments about how I felt the Republican Party was doing itself a disservice by not reaching out to conservative African-Americans. Where I’m from, in rural Mississippi, I grew up knowing lots a [sic] God-fearing, hard-working, independent conservative minded African-American family’s [sic]. On the McDaniel campaign we had two young men from just such family’s on our staff.

Sojourner’s idea of “outreach” seems to be to wait for minority voters to develop sufficient character to vote for the GOP exactly as it finds it today. That presumably means accepting conservatives have been right all along–dating back to Jim Crow–about the evil nature of the Welfare State and a federal government large and strong enough to support civil rights laws.

Do people like this really believe in their heart of hearts they’re being “color-blind?” I cannot peer into their souls, but it’s no more or less plausible than the constant complaints from southern white conservatives I heard growing up that segregation was good for both races. Lord knows anything’s better for African-Americans than being consigned to the plantation of dependence on Washington for help in feeding one’s kids and gaining access to health care and keeping open threadbare public schools and securing the right to vote. Perhaps if the GOP becomes even more conservative the great minority voting breakthrough will finally occur.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 8, 2014

July 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Minority Voters, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Running Ethically In Mississippi”: With So Much At Stake, Can Travis Childers Walk The Tightrope?

Travis Childers, who served as a Democrat in Congress from May 13, 2008 to January 3, 2011, was never my kind of Democrat, but I am okay with that. I would not expect great things from him if he were to win a six-year term in the U.S. Senate representing the state of Mississippi. On most contentious issues, I’d expect him to vote with the Republicans in a (probably) vain effort to save his hide in his bid for reelection.

What interests me about this race is the ethics. It’s pretty clear that the Republican Party is badly split between supporters of incumbent Thad Cochran, who is a decent fellow, and his challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who runs in neo-confederate circles and has the support of an extreme Tea Party faction. This wedge pre-exists anything Childers might do to exploit it. If Childers can convince a significant percentage of McDaniel supporters to vote for him, he can actually win this seat, but it is not clear how he can go about doing that without leveraging the racism that is at the core of opposition to Cochran.

Cochran was expected to lose his run-off with McDaniel but exceeded expectations by convincing a not inconsiderable number of black voters to back him. The Tea Party faction is claiming that a lot of these black voters violated the law by voting in the Republican run-off after voting in the Democratic primary. That issue can be settled in court, but regardless of legal merits, Cochran’s open solicitation of black votes is seen as dirty pool by McDaniel’s supporters who think that a Republican primary should be decided by exclusively Republican voters regardless of what the law specifies.

Travis Childers has the option of exacerbating this racial tension for his own political advantage, but this would be the wrong thing to do. Yet, if he doesn’t do it, he will almost certainly lose. In fact, even if he does do it, he will probably lose.

Democrats in Washington are watching the feud cautiously, not yet convinced it will put even Mississippi in play. The Democratic nominee, Mr. Childers, has raised little money and was always seen as a good candidate against Mr. McDaniel but as a marginal one against Mr. Cochran.

Conservative activists are not so sure. Dwayne Hall, vice president of the Miller County Patriots, a Tea Party group in Texarkana, Ark., says he has set up a Google alert for the McDaniel-Cochran fight and emails his network of fellow activists all the news from Mississippi.

“I’m no longer a member of the Republican Party, and I’d expect a lot of my fellow patriots to resign, too,” he said, adding: “I’m perfectly willing to do a protest vote in November if that’s my best option. I’m keeping that option open.”

So, how can Childers convince people like Dwayne Hall to advocate on his behalf without dirtying himself with the racial politics of it all? Childers needs to nurture that “protest vote,” but he doesn’t want to shame himself in the process. So far, he’s walking the tightrope.

The turmoil has given Mr. Cochran’s Democratic challenger, former Representative Travis Childers, an opening to exploit the divide in what is otherwise seen as a race in which he trails badly. “Senator Cochran does not have the confidence of his state, let alone his own party,” Mr. Childers said.

It won’t be easy to maintain that kind of balance with so much at stake. I hope Childers will be able to look back at his campaign and be proud of how he ran it regardless of the outcome.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 6, 2014

 

July 7, 2014 Posted by | Mississippi, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Calling The Shots”: Who If Not Tea Folk Control GOP Agenda?

We’re now in the less fertile summer plain of primary elections, with no contests this month other than the unfinished business of runoffs in Alabama and North Carolina on July 15 and Georgia on July 22. So it’s a good time to look back on what Republicans in particular hath wrought, and at TPMCafe Harvard’s expert on (among other things) the Tea Party, Theda Skocpol, suggests we should be looking at Congress rather than the primary outcomes for a sense of where things stand inside the GOP.

An obsession with toting up wins and losses in primaries completely misreads how Tea Party forces work, how they have moved the governing agendas of the Republican Party ever further right and maintained a stranglehold on federal government action….

Tea Party clout in and upon Republican officials, officeholders, and candidates is actually maximized by the dynamic interplay of top-down and bottom-up forces, both pushing for absolute opposition to President Barack Obama and obstruction of Congressional action involving compromises with Democrats. Tea Party forces are neither inside nor outside, neither for nor against the Republican Party in any simple sense, because they are sets of organizations and activists seeking leverage over the choices and actions of Republican leaders and candidates.

This dynamic long preceded the inauguration of Obama and the formal launching of the Tea Party Movement, but has surely intensified since 2009.

To see that the Tea Party remains supremely effective, just look at what Congressional Republicans are doing, or not doing. Eric Cantor’s sudden defeat sealed the GOP House’s determination to block immigration reform, but that reform was already effectively dead even before that one primary election happened. Republicans have pulled away from decades-old compromises to fund transportation systems, to support agricultural subsidies along with Food Stamps, to renew the Export-Import Bank that most U.S. business interests want continued. House and Senate Republicans are spending their time mainly on obstruction and media-focused investigations, anything to challenge and humiliate President Obama. In state houses, Tea Party-pushed Republicans are mainly passing anti-abortion restrictions and blocking the expansion of Medicaid favored by hospitals and businesses.

What do primary elections have to do with such effective agenda control? Not nearly as much as the basketball finals approach to tallying total wins and losses implies. In a way, unpredictable and somewhat random victories against fairly safe Republican power-brokers are the most effective outcomes for Tea Party voters and funders. Sure, the big Tea Party funders would like to have gotten a win for Chris McDaniel, their guy in Mississippi, and they are furious that they did not. But backing up and looking at the big picture, does anyone really imagine that nervous GOP officeholders are reassured that the Tea Party is dead or “under control” following a scenario in which old timer Thad Cochran had to raise millions for what should have been a taken-for-granted primary victory, and his allies had to orchestrate an all-out voter mobilization effort that even reached out to some African American Democrats? Cochran’s near-death sends a powerful message that loudly hewing hard-right on policy issues and obstruction is the way to go. Similarly, Eric Cantor’s huge defeat is even more frightening to many Republican politicians because it happened without big-money backing from the likes of Heritage Action.

Another way to put it is to ask whether there’s any issue on which the GOP has decisively pushed back on the Tea Party agenda? Yes, there was the decision to abandon the government shutdown last year, but even the Tea Folk understood that couldn’t go on forever. Other than that, it’s hard to see where and how the alleged “Establishment” primary victories are going to make any actual difference. Look at the Common Core educational standards issue, supposedly a huge priority for the business community that has given so generously to the Establishment cause. Chamber of Commerce beneficiaries Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Jack Kingston of Georgia have all come out against Common Core. Who’s really calling the shots in the GOP, if not the radicalized conservative movement we call the Tea Party?

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 4, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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