The holidays are a great time in politics. Every year it's the same: the minute the last bits of wrapping paper have been cleared away, and Grandpa has passed his last puff of holiday gas, you can always retreat to the inside pages of the news section and find some embarrassing/despicable PR fiasco that some politician somewhere has just tried to sneak past vacationing America.
This year was no different. In a fitting homage to past holiday-season embarrassments like the Iran-Contra pardons or Bill Clinton's signing of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the Republican Party last week quietly declared war on itself, in the process essentially confessing to a generation of failed governance and dumbed-down politics.
The news came in the Wall Street Journal, where the Chamber of Commerce disclosed that it will be teaming up with Republican establishment leaders to spend $50 million in an effort to stem the tide of "fools" who have overwhelmed Republican ballots in recent seasons. Check out the language Chamber strategist Scott Reed used in announcing the new campaign:
"Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates... That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket."
The blunt choice of words is no accident. All year long, as they've crept closer and closer to having to face the reality of a Ted Cruz presidential candidacy in 2016 (with Cruz maybe picking recently-redeemed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson as his more moderate running mate?), the Beltway's Republican kingmakers have drifted into ever more alarmist language about the need to change course.
It's been a transparent effort to reassure industry donors that the party's future isn't a bottomless pit of brainless Bachmanns and Cruzes and Santorums, all convinced our Harvard-educated president is a sleeper-cell Arab and that Satan is a literal being intent on conquering Nebraska with U.N. troops.
Earlier this month, for instance, former House Majority Leader and cause-betraying Tea Party progenitor Dick Armey complained that Republicans have been getting whipped at the polls because "we had a lot of candidates quite frankly that did dumb things out there." And way back in March of last year, Karl Rove himself, speaking on behalf of his Crossroads SuperPAC, told Fox News Sunday that "our goal is to avoid having stupid candidates." Rove's group is reportedly also involved in this new $50 million effort.
The Chamber's announcement was met with howls of outrage from Tea Party-friendly voices, who naturally took immediate offense to the prospect of boycotting "fools" from the political process.
"Misguided," said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. "Insane," sneered conservative activist Cleta Mitchell.
Tom Borelli, senior fellow for Armey's old FreedomWorks group, quite correctly complained that the Chamber and their Republican allies were trying to defy the conservative base by hijacking the party and keeping it in the pocket of big-money interests. "The tea party is about lowering costs," Borelli explained to Newsmax. "[The Chamber will] want regulations to favor big business."
There's almost no end to the comedy of this story. First of all, there's the sheer size of the endowment. Fifty million dollars is enough money to fund half a dozen or more Senate campaigns. That the big-business donors who traditionally have funded the Republican Party believe they need to make that kind of monster investment just to keep "fools" from getting on the ballot of a party they basically control is an incredible reflection of the state of things on that side of the political aisle.
Then, of course, there's the irony. Men like Karl Rove and Dick Armey practically invented the politics of stupid. In fact, they practically invented the politics of winning millions of votes every time some oversexed cosmopolitan liberal of the Matt Damon/Sean Penn genus used words like "dumb" or "stupid" to describe the preoccupations of Middle America's God-and-guns culture.
To see these same Beltway Svengalis trapped now in this crazy role reversal, denounced by the far right for being the same kind of condescending establishment snot-bags they themselves spent decades trying to find and campaign against -- well, that's just seriously funny.
The situation with Rove is particularly delicious. This is someone who foisted upon the world the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, a man who couldn't speak English, didn't read books or newspapers, and won his second term via the political version of an Inspector Clouseau routine, rallying middle America behind an enraged invasion of the wrong country in retaliation for 9/11.
For a political adviser, getting a blockhead like Bush elected president not once but twice was a major accomplishment. It's the sort of thing that impresses industry insiders, the same way PR professionals genuinely admire the job Burson-Marsteller did hushing up the Bhopal disaster for Union Carbide, or whitewashing Indonesia's image after the East Timor massacre.
As such the "Turd Blossom" was continually hailed as a kind of genius throughout the Bush presidency (even liberal pundits got in the act, although they usually called him an "evil genius"), despite the fact that nothing Karl Rove ever did was all that smart.
Rove's sole insight as a political thinker was that if you completely dispense with the patriotic aspects of governing -- you know, that whole doing-what's-right-for-the-country thing -- then winning elections is no different than selling cheeseburgers or scoring high sitcom ratings. You give people what they want, and it doesn't matter if it's bad for them.