For years, we’ve read a lot of stories about “anti-establishment” Republicans “attacking” their “mainstream” opponents. But the mainstream media narrative rarely runs in the opposite direction.
The coordinated ruling class surge against constitutional conservatives who don’t know their place gained force last week with both serious and farcical attacks on its presidential contenders. Rand Paul got the viral video treatment for a gotcha moment at an Iowa fundraiser for Congressman Steve King (R-IA)–a compliment of sorts for the senator regarded by many as “Democrat’s Enemy #1.” Senator Paul’s offense is his ability to draw some of the Democratic base off the Progressive reservation. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz continues to inspire a monthly attack piece for being a traitor to his Ivy League-educated class (and harboring a diabolical plan to take over the United States by burning bridges and/or building bridges).
Back in Washington, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), fresh off his rise to House Whip, has turned for hiring advice to DC lobbyist John Feehery, whose obsession with making trouble for limited government House Republicans was well-documented by The Federalist’s Ben Domenech here. This connection led Mickey Kaus to ponder whether Rep. Scalise hates his caucus as much as Feehery.
In our era of bad feelings, the one thing that seems to produce good feelings among establishment Republicans and Democrats is their mutual disdain for small “r” republicans.
While conflict is natural to man as a political animal, more problematic is the establishment belief in its divine right to govern, which it is bad form to challenge, much less overthrow. Former Congressman Steve LaTourette, who now heads the Republican Main Street Partnership, described the Republican intraparty battle in these amusingly ironic terms:
Over the last few years we have seen the rise of a new grifter—the political grifter. And the most important battle being waged today isn’t the one about which party controls the House or the Senate, it’s about who controls the Republican Party: the grifting wing or the governing wing. Today’s political grifters are a lot like the grifters of old—lining their pockets with the hard-earned money of working men and women promising things in return that they know they can’t deliver.
Who are these grifters, according to LaTourette? The heads of leading Tea Party groups, who make mid-six figure salaries for their efforts. Interestingly, LaTourette did not note the happy coincidence that his efforts for the Main Street Partnership have done much to advance his other work–as a newly-minted Capitol Hill lobbyist. According to The New York Times, “Mr. LaTourette, in one interview, acknowledged that his work with the Main Street Partnership may indirectly benefit his lobbying firm. ‘It isn’t bad for business,’ he said. ‘But it is not by design.’” Governing apparently allows for a little grifting too–especially when that governing is defined (as LaTourette summarized his work in the same NYT profile) as finding the twenty House Republican votes needed to push the Democratic agenda through. Given that agenda, in fact, one might say that establishment politics amounts to grifters lobbying for grafters.
When James Madison defended the republican character of the House of Representatives, he contrasted the relative purity of the American system with that of the British. Although the House of Commons had 558 members in his day, fully half of this number was elected by a grand total of 5,723 people (of a total population of 8 million). “It cannot be supposed,” Madison argued,
That the half thus elected, and who do not even reside among the people at large, can add anything either to the security of the people against the government, or to the knowledge of their circumstances and interests in the legislative councils. On the contrary, it is notorious, that they are more frequently the representatives and instruments of the executive magistrate, than the guardians and advocates of the popular rights.
This was the British ruling class of 1789. The American ruling class of 2014, of course, is superficially different: there are no rotten boroughs in the United States. But if each House member represents about 750,000 voters, there might still be half who “do not even reside among the people at large”–more creatures of Washington, than any hometown constituency–and serve the “executive magistrate,” rather than act as “the guardians and advocates of the popular rights.”
There are a number of reasons for this. But two are perhaps most relevant in the battle for Republican Party control that both the establishment and the insurgents acknowledge. Progressive ideology requires the centralization of power in federal and then executive hands–not to protect rights, but to right (perceived) wrongs. The ruling class, divided only between intentional (generally Democratic) and accidental (generally Republican) Progressives, naturally assimilates with the culture and power structure of the City of Government. Meanwhile, mutual interest has led both party establishments to all but gerrymander competitive House districts out of existence.
What avenue, then, is left for reform? Primary challenges, featuring thoughtful conservatives immune, as much as any human being can be, to the Potomac fever infecting the Washington governing class. According to one calculation, there are 191 House districts that are either “landslide” (125) or “strong” (66) Republican. Whatever the prudential strategy might be in the few remaining competitive districts, there ought to be a strong Tea Party candidate in every one of those 191 Republican primaries, either as the incumbent or the challenger–and no complaints from either side: the people, not the present occupants, own each House seat. The establishment in particular, despite its pretensions, has no divine right to govern.
The 2014 primary season is drawing to a close. The establishment has proven its willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to power–and, for the most part, they have won.
Insurgents should celebrate their victories, study their defeats, and, even as they see the current election cycle through, begin to prepare to have the fullest slate of strong candidates possible in 2016. Game on.
David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011). You can follow their work on Twitter or Facebook. Their original article appeared on The Federalist.