Somewhere along the way conservatives forgot about President Reagan’s famous maxim: “Trust but verify.” With Reagan’s ascent to power and, simultaneously, the rise of the modern conservative movement, a host of organizations also gained power, many of them claiming to advocate for limited government, lower taxes, and family values. Because these groups were well-organized, well-funded, and helped our side — meaning they helped elect candidates with R’s next to their names — we thought they were our friends, and so we were content to cede power and influence to them because we trusted that they would make a sincere effort to advocate for our shared values.
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But then came the internet and greater transparency in government, and suddenly it became apparent that many of these groups were not the friends of limited government or of the American people. They benefitted well-connected special interests that had special access to the levers of power. The Tea Party organized largely in reaction to increased American awareness about the serious dysfunction in Washington as they grew alarmed, in particular, with the profligate spending, the burgeoning debt, and the erosion of individual liberties under the rule of our bloated, overreaching federal government. Conservatives struggled to understand why many Republicans were indifferent to the challenge of tackling these threats to our nation’s sovereignty and our children’s future and wondered why many claiming to be on our side seemed resigned to the status quo, demonstrating no will to fight. This breach in the GOP (that has existed for decades) began to grow exponentially.
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It was obvious from the beginning of the Tea Party movement that many within the GOP were hostile to the principles these new conservative groups represented, but after the show of political force in the 2010 landslide election, few Republicans openly expressed their criticism. Now, however, the masks — and the gloves — are off. Establishment Republicans blame the scourge of conservative “extremism” for John McCain’s loss, Mitt Romney’s loss, and every other loss in the GOP since the 2010 election.
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The New York Times recently reported that former Ohio congressman Steve LaTourette wants to run conservatives out of the GOP, calling LaTourette one of the “top generals in the establishment Republicans’ war against the Tea Party.” Through his Main Street Partnership lobbying firm and Defending Mainstreet PAC, LaTourette said he hopes to fight back against “extremist” groups like Club for Growth, which he called a “cancer that has attached itself” to the Republican Party. “We want our party back,” LaTourette told the New York Times. The Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedomworks, and Madison Project have also come under fire from LaTourette.
LaTourette’s Defending Mainstreet PAC is heavily funded by Democrats and labor unions and has ties to many Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who recently lashed out at Tea Party conservatives, saying they “lack all credibility” for their recent opposition to the budget deal. Boehner accused conservatives of “using our members [Congressmen] and the American people for their own goals.”
K Street lobbyists applauded the Speaker for his attack on the Tea Party. One business lobbyist group told The Hill, “Speaker Boehner said what a lot of us had been thinking for a long time, that these ‘purity for profit’ groups are taking advantage of well-meaning but politically naive members.”
This is the same Speaker Boehner who uses strong-arm tactics to solicit campaign contributions on behalf of his members. According to Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets, Boehner is a master of what is called the “tollbooth.”
“In 2011, [Boehner] collected a total of over $200,000 in donations from executives and companies in the days before holding votes on just three bills. He delayed scheduling a vote for months on the widely supported Wireless Tax Fairness Act, and after he finally announced a vote, 37 checks from wireless-industry executives totaling nearly $40,000 rolled in. He also delayed votes on the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act and the Small Company Capital Formation Act, scoring $91,000 from investment banks and private equity firms, $32,450 from bank holding companies and $46,500 from self-described investors — all in the 48 hours between scheduling the vote and the vote’s actually being held on the House floor.”
In light of such revelations, Speaker Boehner’s accusation that the Tea Party is “using our members [Congressmen] and the American people for their own goals” is beyond hypocritical — it’s contemptible: far from being a government “of the people.”
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Many of the lobbyists working in tandem with Congress do so at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group that Michelle Malkin recently called a “politically entrenched synod of special interests” in an article for National Review. The Chamber supported the 2009 stimulus and has loudly opposed attempts to defund Obamacare and to negotiate spending cuts using the debt ceiling. The group has said it will “pull out all the stops,” including working with unions to push through comprehensive immigration reform this year, and has also vowed to defeat constitutional conservative candidates in the primary and general election. This is no idle threat since the Chamber has the money to push through its policy and electoral goals. The group’s lobbying efforts dwarf other organizations, with $136 million spent in 2012, more than three times as much as the next highest spender and they will use much of it, as Malkin points out, to promote “the big business of the Beltway, not the business of mainstream America.”
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In his Tea Party response to the State of the Union address, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) condemned “cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic insiders twist the immense power of the federal government to profit at the expense of everyone else.” Lee acknowledging that too often, his own party has been to blame, “joining the Democrats to rig our economy to benefit the well-connected at the expense of the disconnected.”
Our American government has become a vulgar pseudo-aristocracy built, in part, on corporate welfare purchased with the influence that comes from campaign contributions. Many Republicans enthusiastically support this system, hooked on the “sugar” the lobbyists — including the Republican leadership — spread around Washington. As a conservative movement, we are living with the consequences of decades of failing to “trust but verify” those who were speaking on our behalf and now we have almost completely ceded power to the progressive, crony capitalist Republicans. They have had the luxury of taking our votes for granted and we have enabled them with our support.
In 1975 then-Governor Reagan posed a question to the Young Americans for Freedom:
“Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”
Conservatives are asking the same question today.
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Many of us still hold out hope that we can pull the Republican party back from this precipice — believing that it is not yet time to give up on it. Sen. Lee, in his State of the Union response, said he thinks there is promise in a “new generation of reformers” in Washington that wants to win over the Republican party and earn the trust of the American people.
The stakes are high and the task ahead is daunting. If conservatives lose this battle for a bold, revitalized second party, the GOP will go left on spending, the debt, gun control, immigration, abortion, and same-sex marriage. LaTourette’s group and the Chamber of Commerce have declared that this is the year they will crush the conservative resistance and they have the money and the muscle to accomplish that goal if we sit back and allow it to happen. If successful, it would likely mean the end of the Republican party because a significant number of conservatives will finally walk away from the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
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If we are to take back the party — to save it from itself — conservatives must apply pressure from both inside and outside of the party; we have powerful, effective tools on our side, but this fight will take incredible fortitude and an immense amount of hard work. We do, however, have several things going for us:
First, LaTourette has acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle. “One of the problems that we have is that the conservative groups have been at it longer and not only do they have a database of donors but they can also put boots on the ground,” LaTourette said. He added, “Where the far right is eating our lunch is that they have the grassroots stuff and so we’re going to have to create some of that.” We’re also beginning to compete with their money. Breitbart reported this week that “Tea Party and conservative SuperPACs raised around three times as much as GOP establishment SuperPACs” according to 2013 year end FEC reports.
We also have on our side a populist cause that most Americans agree with and understand. Even Occupy Wall Street opposes corporate cronyism, the bailouts, and special treatment for groups that can afford lobbyists. In response to the recently-released (and unbelievably clever) “Kronies” video that celebrates small businesses while vilifying corporate and union cronyism, Jason Linkins at Huffington Post wrote,
“when it comes to the evils of cronyism in government, there’s a lot over which populists on both sides of the ideological aisle can break bread. Between too-big-to-fail bank bailouts, rentier protection that crowds out competition and exacerbates income inequality, and big taxpayer giveaways to multinationals, there are a lot of openings for accord.”
And finally, we have the truth on our side. We can be thankful that we are neither ignorant nor in denial about the nature and character of the Republican party any longer. The information age has empowered our movement and we can fight the misinformation and propaganda, whether it comes from the media or from our party leaders. This transparency will be foundational to building a true conservative movement, based on truth and integrity — one that is for the American people instead of for special interests and lobbyists.
And this time around we must be vigilant to “trust but verify.”
[READ on OCR: All Articles by Paula Bolyard]
Paula Bolyard describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media Lifestyle, PJ Media, and RedState.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.