A year ago, John Boehner stepped down from the second most powerful position in our government, and now he’s lobbying for big tobacco player Reynolds American. In a nutshell, this is what’s wrong with American government, and why something has to die before a real third party effort can take hold.
Boehner joined super lobbyist law firm Squire Patton Boggs and brought two of his aides along with him. He’s also joining the board of Reynolds American, for a cool $400,000 a year. For comparison, that’s what the President of the United States makes. The former speaker’s compensation with his new law firm has not been disclosed. He joins Trent Lott, Jack Kingston, and a raft of other former elected and high level appointed government officials at the lobbying firm.
Government is all about relationships. Parties are organizations, but politics is done in the Members’ Dining Room, on the softball field, and on the putting green. Deals are made, friendships are cultivated, and backs are scratched. Sitting among the legislative clubhouse denizens are think-tanks, issues-oriented lobbying groups, the press and the pundit class.
The money tree is deeply rooted in party politics. When on occasion a group forgets its allegiance, the enforcers become very much in evidence. The latest example of this is the Freedom Caucus of the House’s refusal to transfer cash to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
The dispute, which one chief of staff for a House Republican called a “brewing war,” is another sign that the schism between the activist and establishment wings of the House GOP Conference has spread to the campaign trail. Over the summer, conservative- and establishment-aligned outside groups poured millions into primary showdowns between far-right and center-right candidates.
The Republican National Committee is completely vested in the Trump campaign, and keeps 20 percent of funds raised for Trump as part of their joint fundraising committee. The protectiveness of party relationships over principles was on full display during the Republican National Convention, when any who dared support a roll call vote for a rules package, or any kind of speed bump to potentially derail the Trump train, faced an increasing level of private persuasion, intimidation and even threats.
The time would seem to be ripe for a third party. Aaron Gardner wrote at RedState:
There has been no time in my life when the rise a new major party, or two, seemed plausible … until now. Many people are just no longer represented by either major party. Conservatives are left without a home for our ideology, blue dog democrats have likewise been purged from the left, libertarians are even being taken for somewhat of a ride by their candidates as well.
I see a lot of demand for something better, something that reflects the values both parties have tossed off as cliched aftereffects of a bourgeoisie class of American’s they believe no longer exist, or deserve a voice. Unfortunately, there seems to be no real supply.
To build a third party, it will take an immense amount of cash, and a titanium backbone. It’s not enough to glom onto voter angst, as the Tea Party did, and failed to convert. The Tea Party did, however, make headway into the GOP. Unfortunately, this election cycle threatens to wipe out all those gains.
As Erick wrote, “the Republican establishment will blame people like me for giving rise to Trump and Trump supporters will blame people like me for his loss. I suppose I should say not that I’m in an odd position, but that I am in a no-win position.” This also goes for Ted Cruz, and anyone who would dare to stand up to Trump should he win.
I would guess that many who have offered their weak endorsement to Trump’s candidacy did so in the hopes he would lose and they would be able to claim they did their part, and continue the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. But I’m afraid that soul is already lost.
How can a third party overcome the billions of dollars that flow through K Street firms (Squire Patton Boggs has revenues of $950 million), the invested interests of Congressional and Senate staffs, the revolving doors of the think-tanks and advocacy groups, and the political press?
They have to kill it. Something has to die. The money tree has to be cut off. That means some good organizations will suffer, but some well known, big name will have to defect. George Will renounced his Republican Party membership. Would someone like him pick up the mantle for a third party? Would the Heritage Foundation sever its relationship with Republican lawmakers to lend gravitas to a new order? Would Club for Growth?
It would take more than simple advocacy for primary candidates in Republican elections. It would take more than choosing among the least-worst option or engaging in nose-holding. A third party effort has to focus on killing the Republican Party, knocking out the incestuous consultancies, quid pro quo arrangements, and featherbedding that has so corrupted it.
There’s a reason that the Constitution Party and other conservative independent parties are marginalized. They are happy to co-exist with the GOP. As Chairman Reince Priebus indicated last week, if anyone isn’t on board with the Trump train, the party is not given to warm welcomes.
I would be joyful to see a third party begin to organize and rise, with some big names in conservative thought behind it. David French and Evan McMullin, the former with the courage to consider an independent run, and the latter just insane enough to do it, come to mind. McMullin has the right idea:
“I believe it may be necessary to start a new political party that rededicates itself to the cause of individual liberty and to tolerance and diversity in this country,” McMullin says. “The most likely scenario for the Republican Party is that it becomes decreasingly relevant in American politics and that it cannot be saved anytime soon, if at all. I believe that it is time for a new conservative movement.”
Unless we want 20 years or more of single-party, Democrat-socialist rule, any third party movement must set as its first goal to help the GOP along into that good night. The country just may not survive the alternative.