Lobbyists and the GOP political establishment applauded Speaker John Boehner’s strident attacks against the Tea Party and conservatives as the House prepared to approve the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Boehner had said that conservative groups had “lost all credibility” for opposing a budget deal that increases the national debt. While business groups may get a tingle hearing Boehner’s harsh words, one wonders how alienating the grass roots will help them curtail the next government overreach.
“You didn’t hear all the applause across downtown?” Dirk Van Dongen, a top GOP lobbyist with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) said about Boehner’s remarks. “Folks were absolutely pleased that he said it. … It needed to be said.”
What lobbyists like Van Dongen fail to appreciate, however, is that Boehner’s remarks were not so much against particular organizations as they were against the party’s base voters. The same voters who delivered the GOP into a House majority and acted as a bulwark against the most ambitious plans of the Obama Administration. Often, the activism of conservatives helped business groups block expensive and overbearing regulation. Van Dongen and other establishment figures take this for granted at their peril.
The Republicans have an historic opportunity in 2014, largely because ObamaCare is solely owned by the Democrat party. Is there any doubt that, without the grass roots furor, some Republican lawmakers would have tried to strike a “compromise” with Democrats on the health care rewrite? Without the action of groups that Van Dongen and Boehner now criticize, ObamaCare would likely have been a “bi-partisan” effort that would blunt the GOP advantage.
In the coming months, Obama and the Democrats will make an aggressive push for a minimum wage hike. They are convinced, mostly mistakenly, that the minimum wage issue helped them take control of Congress in 2006. They are hopeful that the issue can help them boost turnout among their supporters in next year’s election. It is an issue that polls well and could put the Republicans in a politically difficult situation.
Van Dongen and other business lobbyists will find that the “moderate” Republicans they fete will be among the first to vote to increase the minimum wage. The only line of defense against the destructive policy are the very conservatives they want to denigrate. A hike in the minimum wage is bad economics. But, so to, is passing budgets that increase the national debt and push our fiscal challenges further into the future.
Maybe conservative activists should take a pass this time on the minimum wage debate. Why should conservative lawmakers or activists do the political heavy-lifting in fighting a mandated wage hike if we’ve “lost all credibility?” If business groups are intent on securing amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants without a secure border, perhaps we need a very high minimum wage to prevent wage suppression on American workers.
The US Chamber of Commerce has famously promised to spend millions of its members’ money not attacking Democrats, but attacking conservatives. This effort is already off to a rocky start. A few months ago, the Chamber and its members spent hundreds of thousands on a special primary in Alabama to back a conservative former state Senator against a more conservative candidate who claimed to be affiliated with the tea party.
That candidate, Dean Young, was a birther and received no support from national tea party groups. Yet the Chamber-backed candidate, Bradley Bryne, barely won the primary, in spite of overwhelmingly outspending Young. It is possible that the Chamber’s backing actually hurt Bryne, who should have been able to win the primary in a walk. The Chamber’s brand may be tarnished with the party’s base voters.
Another challenge for the Chamber and other business groups is that their campaign involvement will be directed by the same consultants that brought us President Romney and Sens. Allen, Thompson, McMahon, Fiorni, Mack, Rehberg, Lingle, etc. The establishment track record isn’t exactly stellar.
VA Gov candidate Ken Cuccinelli ran a textbook establishment campaign up until the final 10 days, and steadily lost ground in the polls. His shift to a conservative message almost saved his candidacy, but the GOP mandarins had already decamped to Trenton, New Jersey and couldn’t capitalize on his momentum.
Business groups in DC employ firms to create grassroots activism on their pet issues. They spend millions a year to create the impression that regular Americans care about their policy priorities. Whether it is opposition to wage hikes, new regulations or support for tax reform, lobbyists succeed when they can get average people to communicate with their legislator.
In the face of organic grassroots activism on general free market and limited government issues, however, the business community balks. Worse, acting their their legislative allies, they have opted to go openly to war against the grass roots. Who know will provide support for issues important to business? Who will spend any time supporting their legislative allies.
I used to marvel at the swift collapse of the Whig party in the 19th Century. It was a mystery how a party that had dominated politics imploded so quickly. The events of the past week go a long way to explaining how a major political party can lose its moorings.
Lobbyists, Speaker Boehner and other Republicans may have each other, but it is a quickly shrinking club.