The Eroding GOP Base

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Bush Administration, Republican Party

Going back to Paul Krugman’s column — the professor writes about the fact that the GOP is hurting at campaign fund raising, in part because Republicans are losing the support of Big Corporations.

… it’s not surprising that lobbyists are casting in their lot with the likely winners. But that’s not the whole story.

There’s also disgust, even in the corporate world, with the corruption and incompetence of the Bush years. People on the left often describe the Bush administration as an agent of corporate America; that’s giving it too much credit.

The truth is that while the administration has lavished favors on some powerful, established corporations, the biggest scandals have involved companies that were small or didn’t exist at all until they started getting huge contracts thanks to their political connections. Thus, Blackwater USA was a tiny business until it somehow became the leading supplier of mercenaries for the War on Terror™.

And the lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies on the make horrifies the corporate elite almost as much as it horrifies ordinary Americans.

Last but not least, even corporations are relieved to see the end of what amounted to a protection racket.

In a classic 2003 article in The Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore (now at The New York Times) described the efforts of people like former Senator Rick Santorum to turn K Street into an appendage of the Republican Party — not the other way around. “The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer,” wrote Mr. Confessore, “are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the G.O.P.”

But corporations weren’t happy. According to The Politico, “many C.E.O.’s” used the term “extortion” to describe “the annual shakedowns by committee chairmen with jurisdiction over their industries.” And now that Mr. Santorum is out of office, heading the America’s Enemies program at a right-wing think tank, the faint sound you hear from K Street is that of lobbyists singing: “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

I looked up the Nicholas Confessore article Krugman cites. It’s called “Welcome to the Machine,” and it was published in the July/August 2003 issue of Washington Monthly. It’s actually kind of fun to read it now. Even though the Machine is far from being dismantled, it ain’t what it was in 2003. This part exemplifies what Krugman is talking about regarding extortion:

But the flip side of the deal is that trade associations and corporations are expected to back the party’s initiatives even on occasions when doing so is not in their own best interest. When Bush’s recently passed dividends tax cut proposal was first announced, the life insurance industry complained that the bill would sharply reduce the tax advantage of annuities sold by insurance companies, potentially costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. The industry’s lobbyists were told to get behind the president’s proposal anyway–or lose any chance to plead their case. So they did. In mid-March, Frank Keating, the head of the industry’s trade group and a close friend of Bush’s, hand-delivered a letter to the White House co-signed by nearly 50 CEOs, endorsing the president’s proposal while meekly raising the hope that taxes on dividends from annuities would also be included in the final repeal (which they weren’t). Those firms that didn’t play ball on Bush’s pan paid the price. The Electronic Industries Alliance was one of the few big business lobbies that declined to back the tax cut, in large part because the high-tech companies that make up a good portion of its membership don’t even issue dividends. As a result, the trade group was frozen out of all tax discussions at the White House.

And here’s the final paragraph:

A little over a century ago, William McKinley–Karl Rove’s favorite president–positioned the Republican Party as a bulwark of the industrial revolution against the growing backlash from agrarian populists, led by Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. The new business titans flocked to McKinley’s side, providing him with an extraordinary financial advantage over Bryan. McKinley’s victory in 1896 ushered in a long period of government largely by and for industry (interrupted briefly, and impermanently, by the Progressive Era). But with vast power came, inevitably, arrogance and insularity. By the 1920s, Republican rule had degenerated into corruption and open larceny–and a government that, in the face of rapidly growing inequality and fantastic concentration of wealth and opportunity among the fortunate few, resisted public pressure for reform. It took a few more years, and the Great Depression, for the other shoe to drop. But in 1932 came the landslide election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the founding of the very structure of governance today’s Republicans hope to dismantle. Who knows? History may yet repeat itself.

Where have you gone, Franklin Roosevelt?

I want to go back to the notion that the Bushies are agents of corporate America, verses the “lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies” apparent now even to CEOs. I think the Bushies saw themselves as agents of corporate America, people who would “run the government like a business,” to recall a popular phrase of the 1990s. When the Bush Administration began the Bushies were full of the conceit that they were so much more disciplined and business-like than the Clintons they could work regular “business” hours. James Carney and John F. Dickerson, CNN, March 12, 2001:

Bush’s take-it-slow-and-easy approach is yet another rebuke to his predecessor. Clinton came to office promising to work for the people “until the last dog dies.” In Clinton’s world, working hard meant exhausting yourself, something the President and his staff did regularly, especially in his first term, when leaving the White House before midnight was viewed as proof of a lack of commitment. Clinton’s sheer effort was a key part of his message.

Not so President Bush. “I don’t like to sit around in meetings for hours and hours and hours,” he told TIME during the campaign. “People will tell you, I get to the point.” Meetings should be crisp and should end with decisions. Talking matters less than doing. “People who make up Republican White Houses come from the business world and are used to a business-like routine: getting in early, getting it done and going home,” says Bush spokes-man Ari Fleischer. By contrast, he adds, Democrats tend to come from “the world of government service, which is much more hectic and much less disciplined.”

I wrote a post last year about what bullshit that turned out to be. But one of the funny things about the loyal Bushies is that most of ’em made their bones in government service, academia, rightie think tanks or the Republican Party itself. The few who were genuine businessmen — like the original Secretary of the Treasury, Paul Snow O’Neill — were the first to go. Even Dick the Dick, though he was a CEO of Halliburton, was reportedly not allowed to make operational decisions in that capacity. He was an asset to Halliburton mostly because of his extensive contacts in government and the military-industrial complex.

In other words, these guys were of the “business world” in the same way the 101st Fighting Keyboarders are “warriors” — make believe.

The GOP is also losing the support of conservative evangelicals. Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in today’s Washington Post:

For months, Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain have courted evangelical Christians, meeting with religious leaders throughout the Midwest and the South.

Today, thousands of Christian conservatives will gather in Washington to confront the fact that none of the candidates has won them over. …

… “At the moment, there’s nothing but confusion every place I go,” said Chuck Colson, who runs the Prison Fellowship, a national Christian ministry. “They lament the fact that there’s no one candidate out there around whom evangelicals and conservative Catholics can sort of coalesce around and get excited about.”

He added: “Nobody has rung the bell yet.”

Giuliani’s too socially liberal, Romney’s a Mormon and therefore not Christian enough, Thompson lost points when he refused to endorse a federal ban on same-sex marriage and flubbed a question about Terri Schiavo, McCain has some bad history with evangelical leaders. I suppose Ron Paul is too antiwar. Brownback, who dropped out of the race this week, is Catholic, and in spite of the evangelical-Catholic alliance on abortion there is still much anti-papist sentiment among evangelicals, I suspect.

That leaves Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, and Alan Keyes, all of whom seem tailor made for evangelicals as far as I can tell. Keyes won’t get the racist vote, so he’s out, but it’s not clear to me why evangelicals aren’t rallying around one of the other three. Huckabee in particular seems reasonably marketable, and he’s even an ordained Baptist minister. Yet the big guns on the Religious Right — James Dobson, Bob Jones III, Pat Robertson, etc. — are either withholding endorsement or have endorsed one of the unpalatable frontrunners.

Bulworth writes,

Not that I mind the fact that the Christian Fascists are splintered, unhappy and forming circular firing squads. But this media narrative that fails to critically assess just what it is that the evangelical, fundy right really wants is annoying. They have candidates. But those candidates are not doing well in general, and are mysteriously not getting attention and support from “values voters” in particular. Moreover, some, perhaps many, of the Christianist’s movers and shakers are affiliated with one of the more “establishment” candidates. What does that say about the so-called “values voters” and their leaders?

I’m not sure what’s going on either. Maybe the leadership is holding out for a higher bid — someone who will promise them more power and perks. It’s possible evangelicals are starting to feel jerked around by these clowns, and the “Christian coalition” itself is coming unglued. Not that I’d mind.

Update: See also Pastor Dan.

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13 Comments

12 Comments

  1. hettiemae  •  Oct 19, 2007 @4:20 pm

    I think Paul O’Neill, CEO of Alcoa, was the first Treasury Secretary for Bush, and you are right, he did not stay long.

  2. Kathy Miller  •  Oct 19, 2007 @5:26 pm

    The “christian” right is neither “christian” nor right. And, I’m with you….the “christian coalition” can come unglued and go away forever!!

  3. James  •  Oct 19, 2007 @11:04 pm

    A death of several leaders of the so-called Christian right has left something of a vacuum, and I for one am glad to see the more mainstream moderate Christians finally not simply going along with the flow. What we desperately need is some public display that, whereas many are attempting to depict the situation as a culture war between polarized extremes, there are probably enough people who gravitate towards slightly different points in the middle of the spectrum and who reject both extremes that some balance could be brought to many issues in a way that would probably do our society a great deal of good.

    Here’s a link to a post on my own blog about one particular subject that illustrates this broader point:

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/10/souls-life-and-abortion.html

  4. Bucky Blue  •  Oct 20, 2007 @6:12 am

    Huckabee would be the best choice for the RR, but he is unelectable and therefore, they won’t back him. Which tells you where there ‘values’ of the values voters really are. I suspect that the line between the conservative protestants and conservative catholics has all but been erased and the RR would have loved to seen Brownback get some momentum so they could back him. The simple fact is that anyone who (whom?) the RR like is anethama to the rest of the country and could not get elected. It’s as if Marxist/Communists made up a large portion of the Dem. party. How do you nominate someone Lenin and Trotsky would like and not alienate the rest of America?

  5. maha  •  Oct 20, 2007 @8:34 am

    Huckabee would be the best choice for the RR, but he is unelectable and therefore, they won’t back him.

    What makes somebody “electable”? What made Dubya “electable”? He became “electable” because various moneyed, influential factions decided, sometime in the late 1990s, to make him “electable.” So they started a buzz campaign to build him up and sell him to the public as some kind of moderate, reasonable, not-crazy conservative. Which of course is several light years away from who he actually is, but never mind. The conservative Powers That Be decided he was their guy, so they put their money and influence behind marketing him.

    The point being that if the same people put their money and influence behind Huckabee, he’d be “electable” tomorrow.

  6. mel-anon  •  Oct 20, 2007 @8:39 am

    Huckabee is considered too much of a fiscal moderate to get the financial backing of the business wing of the Party, of which all the big Christian right groups are auxiliary members. Republican Jesus doesn’t like taxes, either.

  7. c u n d gulag  •  Oct 20, 2007 @8:49 am

    Republican’s of every (prison) stripe are starting to realize that their coalition of the gullible, stupid, mentally unbalanced, unempathetic, incompetent, and violent is unraveling like a cheap, Chinese-made suit.

    And the unholy alliance of the “holy” is getting a reality check. The Religious Right (RR) is finally waking up and smelling the BS. Good. They’ve been wallowing in it for decades and flinging it at the rest of us when we try to speak some truth to them and the rest of the country.

    How does the medicine taste, boy’s?

    I just wish I had some poo to fling at you.
    But you know what? I don’t need to. I can stay above the fray. You’ll fling enough of it yourselves – enough to fertilize this once great nation with the decayed fecal matter that were once your “idea’s.”

    That said, don’t discount these evil, hateful bastard’s for one second. They may yet find some new unbuggering Fallwell, who isn’t on meth, to lead them out of the new wasteland.

    The RR needs a new RR (Ronald Reagan).

  8. maha  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:11 am

    Mel-anon — Huckabee’s tax plan doesn’t seem all that “moderate” to me. His web site says “I am running to completely eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes. And do I mean all – personal federal, corporate federal, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, self-employment.” He wants a national consumption tax — yeah, I can see why business would run away from him, screaming. The “Fair Tax” scheme is more nonsense from the same ideological idiots who still believe in “trickle down” economics.

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:25 am

    I don’t think I need to tell you what’s been trickled-down on me…

  10. Raenelle  •  Oct 20, 2007 @10:47 am

    I heard someone speculate that the reason Huckabee isn’t doing all that well is that he is consciously running a campaign sans rage. He’s supposed to have said something to the effect that, if you want a hater, it’s not me. So, the speculation goes, while Huckabee might match the “values” crowd value for value, he doesn’t match their mood, or he doesn’t feed their sense of victimization. The “values” voters are less about what they’re for, and more about what they’re against, and Huckabee doesn’t satisfy that.

  11. Doug Hughes  •  Oct 20, 2007 @7:42 pm

    Barbara, I have always wanted to run some numbers on a consumption tax. As I see it, a deduction card could be issued which would exempt a consumer/family from tax on food/essentials up to a dollar amount they would be qualified for based on their income/family size.

    Business in America has gotten a free ride on taxes because THEY can write & rewrite the tax code to suit their situation. Under a consumption tax, they would all have to kick in, and it’s about time. Untangling the tax laws will be all but impossible, and Dems are as susceptable to campaingn bribery as Republicans.

    I am NOT a fan of Huckabee, but that does not make a consumption tax a bad idea.

  12. maha  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:39 pm

    Doug — that’s fine, but that’s not even close to what Huckabee is proposing. He’s bought into something like Neil Boortz’s “fair tax” nonsense.For information,

    There Is No Such Thing as a Fair Tax

    The Deceptive Presentation of the FairTax Proposal

    Just how fair is the ‘FairTax’?

    FairTax Is Pure Fantasy

    review of the FairTax book

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