Political Animal


February 25, 2013 11:03 AM Conservative Shakedown Scam?

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve been pretty conspicuous in arguing that the war of words between Karl Rove and Tea Folk over the former’s announcement of a project to stop crazy people from winning major Republican primaries in 2014 did not represent any genuine “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” since it’s all about strategy and tactics, not actual ideology, where everyone involved agrees Maintaining Conservative Principles is the eternal North Star.

But still, I’ve shared the puzzlement of most everybody over Rove’s motivations in picking this loud fight, however superficial it ultimately proves to be.

At the Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle has an answer that’s pretty compelling if you understand that for Rove politics is always, always, always about fundraising, his original gig.

Post-election, big Republican donors have been demanding answers as a condition of future support for various groups—and players in the money game report that there has been barking, profanity, and not-so-veiled threats. “I do think you had a lot of donors saying, ‘You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,’” says the Romney adviser. “Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. ‘What are you doing to make sure you’re not spending money the same old way?’ ”
Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”

This gambit, moreover, Cottle explains, ensured that Rove would be the center of attention, on Fox and in every other conservative venue, if only to explain and defend himself, at a time when he might otherwise finally be dismissed as yesterday’s news, just like his former boss W.

Now deliberately provoking the ire of the dominant faction of the conservative movement and of the GOP is not the most conventional way to keep oneself in the power loop. But Rove is nothing if not a devious SOB. This is the guy who figured out back in the 1990s that state judicial races were the ideal lever for producing a political realignment in the South because they would split off business leaders from the Democratic donor base while reducing the power and diverting the resources of the pro-Democratic trial lawyers. He’s the master of such two- and three-cushion shots, invariably revolving around money.

But Cottle suggests Rove isn’t the only one playing money games:

Rove isn’t the only one poised to benefit from this spectacle. Even as he pokes purists in an apparent effort to jumpstart his 2014 money machine, the purists are looking to fill their coffers by poking back. “They need their shiny ball strategy too,” observes the veteran strategist. “Everybody is trying to raise money.” And just like Rove, these groups play rough—at times a little too rough. Last week the Tea Party Patriots had to issue an apology for a help-us-fight-Karl-Rove fundraising plea that included a Photoshopped image of their target dressed as an SS officer. (An outside vendor took responsibility for the pic.)

This angle reinforces the broader reality that a lot of the rightward lurch in the GOP over the last two decades is ultimately about money: Republican pols have mainstreamed the violent and extremist language so often associated with direct-mail fundraising appeals in the past—even in intra-party dustups. It would not be surprising if Rove and his “enemies” are engaged in an implicit back-scratching agreement designed to fill everyone’s coffers, and distract attention from the disaster of 2012.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • rdale on February 25, 2013 11:26 AM:

    I long for the day when the name Karl Rove evokes a "who?" from everyone. Or the day I see him doing the perp walk, trying to hold a folder in his handcuffed hands in front of his face as he's frog-marched into a police station. Either would work.

  • Sue on February 25, 2013 12:01 PM:

    This is really old news!the republican industrial complex has been supporting him since his college republican days.and it is equally true of dozens of others who have never held a job outside of republicans and

    Vast right wing conspiracy anyone

  • c u n d gulag on February 25, 2013 12:21 PM:

    FSM, what I wish for, is that Rove gets several billion dollars from the rich Conservative movers and shakers, and blows that money on the next two elections, with even worse results than last year.

    And then, the movers and shakers will designate one of their rich evil bastards to have a little talk with Mr. Karl Rove:
    "Karl, step into my office, while I sit down at my desk.
    All I can say is, that's still the same pig! Isn't it Karl? THE SAME LOSING PIG!!!
    And how many billions of our dollars did you spend on lipstick?
    Now, come over to my desk. Don't worry about that shark tank under the glass floor - it won't open-up unless I push this butto... OOOOOOOPS!!!
    SO LONG, CHUM!!!!!!!!!

  • Cugel on February 25, 2013 4:20 PM:

    2012 WASN'T A FAILURE for Republicans! True, they failed to unseat the Kenyan Socialist(TM)and they lost ground in the House and Senate, but their jerrymandered districts all held, so they only lost 8 seats or so, not the 20-30 they SHOULD have lost in any fair apportionment.

    And MOST IMPORTANT, they actually GAINED ground in the states, winning more governorships and establishing one party control over the state governments of several key states.

    And the Koch Brothers just launched a new multi-million $ PAC to focus exclusively on state and local races to bring the advantages of huge money to right-wing causes at the state level.

    The right is accelerating it's efforts, not slackening off. This was just a trial run for the power of money.

    Hitler lost some elections too, but in the end he prevailed because his enemies were disunited and complacent. Don't underestimate the power of big money. They can't buy everything all the time, just yet, but they will learn from their mistakes and keep right on contributing.

    Because it's an investment for the top 1%. The GOP promises to give them billions in tax savings, and they contribute a few hundred million back in financing. Win-Win.

  • smartalek on February 26, 2013 11:28 AM:

    "The GOP promises to give them billions in tax savings, and they contribute a few hundred million back in financing."

    Correct, but not entirely complete... on either side of the equation.
    It's far worse than just that.
    On the debit side, the ownership class also provides the media muscle by which the voices of anyone looking out for the 99% are stifled, or worse, mocked and vilified as anti-American, elitist scum, while the lying narratives of the real elite are upheld. Plus, the occasional message to employees and other stakeholders that their jobs and livelihoods depend on their Voting the Right Way likely contribute some value as well, at least at the margin.
    On the credit side, what they get back is not limited to tax reduction / elimination, as important as these are (especially the intended abolition of the estate, I mean "death," tax, and of the capital gains tax, and the maintenance of the carried-interest deduction). They also get the massive deregulation that led inevitably (and thus predictably) to the credit collapse of '07-'09 -- and the taxpayer-funded bailouts following same, to the despoliation of the planet, and to the unimpeded concentration of wealth, incomes, and opportunity that we've experienced.
    Plus, of course, there's the privatizing of ever more functions of government, and the increase in no-bid, uncompetitive contracting, to the benefit of the corporations and their owners and upper management, and to the cost of everyone else.
    And we mustn't ignore the giveaways of federal assets (lumber, minerals, oil, gas, etc) either.
    But the Publicans alone are not to blame, nor are they the only political and personal beneficiaries.
    Let's not forget that it was Clinton who signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall and NAFTA, as well as the Phil Gramm law that ensured that "exotic" (read: toxic) instruments such as energy futures (read: Enron ripoff of California ratepayers) and the whole alphabet of MBOs, CDOs, CDSs, &c (read: the Great Recession) would remain utterly unregulated.
    And, depending upon whom you believe, it wasn't just Lieberman and other conservadems in Congress who ensured there'd be no public option in the ACA; it's said that Obama himself.gave that one away far in advance. Even if that's untrue, he clearly hasn't helped the situation with his incomprehensible choices to support and further some of the most egregious Publican / corporate lies.
    Under the circumstances, it's a miracle we're doing as well as we are.