Conspiracy Lessons

 

Watching this year’s version of “Will Boehner Fall?” was just painful. Yes, it consumed a little media attention and a lot of Twitter traffic in the last couple of days, but the outcome was always certain: by the end of the process, John Boehner was still Speaker, and conservatives were, for the thousandth time, wondering why they couldn’t beat a man they so profoundly dislike.

I can say this until I’m blue in the face, but winning this type of inside-the-Beltway fight means running the right campaign, not the one in your head. It means having a plan, because (also, until I’m blue in the face) a plan beats no plan, every time. It means telling a story that influences your actual targets, not the people who already love you. Sure, talk radio, conservative Twitter, and the activist groups revved themselves up, ran at the brick wall, and slammed into it hard enough to cause a concussion in the last 48 hours, but — as usual when it comes to the DC establishment — conservatives played the game wrong.

The interior culture of the House is characterized by an obsession with ego, position, power, and the financial goodies that committee positions and leadership favors bring. John Boehner had to hold his numbers, and had tools in the toolbox to do so. Are you angry that some of it was outright bribery in the form of commitments for spending in home districts? Tough. Way it goes. Does it enrage you that he promised some members choice committee assignments, or threatened the removal of others from plum spots? Tough. Way it goes. If you’re going to fight political battles, fight them on the terrain on which they actually exist, without emotion or heroic visions of your own righteousness.

Boehner also understands that the majority of our majority aren’t fire-breathing warriors; many are backbenchers — solid, decent conservative members who aren’t in Washington for the wrong reasons, but who aren’t going to set themselves on fire for the movement. They’re not squishy RINOs (this is the most conservative caucus in history) but they are of a more practical bent. Boehner has a lot of experience in what kind of goodies can be handed out, and knew how to play those folks like a fiddle.

The way to move members in a Speaker’s fight isn’t with some laundry list of policy issues and ideological checkboxes. The way to move members in a Speaker’s fight is by understanding human ego, political (and financial) venality, and personal relationships.

First, they chose the wrong candidates. Louie Gohmert? Ted Yoho? As amusing as both are, neither evoked a sense of leadership around which most members could rally. (Danny Webster, on the other hand, would have made this a very different race.) Gohmert should have outlined how his committee assignments would look to swing members and made lavish promises about how he would take care of his supporters. He should’ve described for them a path to victory on vital issues, and helped them understand how he’d make their political fortunes better, and how he’d be there for their reelection campaigns with resources and support. That’s cynical, and it’s disappointing for purists, but it’s real. The rebels sold the wrong product in the wrong way.

Instead, the message promised a Rain of Fire on Obamacare, Benghazi, the border, and other red meat. The issues that move votes for conservatives are not what moves votes in an election for House Speaker. This isn’t to say that Boehner’s more squishy, ideologically mushy agenda (“Yay! Tax extenders! Yay! Keystone!”) is any great shakes, but for a lot of conservative members, the fear was the moment after Boehner lost would be the moment we started doing nothing but back-to-back-to-back hearings on everything their voters don’t care about while ignoring the things that move them.

Second, the staff culture on the Hill is deeply insular and interconnected. When a new member takes office, they’re not bringing their team to Capitol Hill. Oh, a couple folks will come from the campaign, but the leadership helpfully suggests who they should hire for many of their key positions. The complex web of loyalty, obligation, and interests would make a fascinating data-analysis project, but many staffers have, to put it mildly, mixed agendas. They were whispering things into the ears of even the most conservative members like, “Hey…let’s not piss off the leadership, we promised to finish the Highway 12 overpass in the transportation bill and my friend on the committee told me if we don’t support John there might be a problem.”

Next, if you think “melting the Congressional switchboard” works, prepare for disappointment. I wish they were more responsive to their constituents, but your call is getting answered by an intern, noted down on a contact form, and ignored. It can work on legislative fights, but this wasn’t legislative; it was political. It wasn’t just political; it was intra-caucus political. This fight was settled by a few men and women in whispered conversations in Congress, and external pressure made no difference.

Finally, their operational security was worse than Sony’s. Boehner’s team knew about this plan weeks in advance, and took steps to mitigate it immediately. If you’re plotting a coup, don’t tell the regime “We’re attacking the airfield and the radio station at midnight with 60 men.” Lack of message discipline kills this kind of plan. If it had been held in a tighter circle, the shock of the coup would have prevented Boehner and his team from taking the steps they did to kill it, rallied conservatives in a quick floor fight, and made it more viable. It’s not a secret if it’s in Politico, folks.

I frequently regret that conservatives are not naturally good at either planning or conspiracy, so I hope you’ll understand I’m not telling you this to praise the process or endorse Boehner. I’m telling you this so you don’t waste energy, time, and passion on quixotic fights without a plan, a viable candidate, or a message that works. One of my favorite World War II propaganda posters is a simple pencil sketch of Winston Churchill’s scowling visage. Beneath it, in bold type are two words: “Deserve Victory.” In the effort to unseat Boehner, House conservatives and their allies didn’t mount a serious enough effort to deserve the win

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  1. Drusus Inactive
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    Exactly so. Great points all.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Thanks for this. I know many on radio row were up in arms about Boehner’s leadership, and most of the party’s constituents stand against him, but hoping to unseat him was an impossible dream. The best I thought could be hoped for was forcing a second vote just to get the point across that we are ultimately in control. Perhaps I’m wrong about even that.

    • #2
  3. user_959530 Member
    user_959530
    @

    Well said.

    Rick Wilson:I frequently regret that conservatives are not naturally good at either planning or conspiracy, so I hope you’ll understand I’m not telling you this to praise the process or endorse Boehner. I’m telling you this so you don’t waste energy, time, and passion on quixotic fights without a plan, a viable candidate, or a message that works.

    • #3
  4. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    No personal affront to you Rick — I appreciate you writing this — but I find this very depressing.

    • #4
  5. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Really interesting and helpful!  The differing incentives within the House inner working versus the political process show the outcomes make sense.

    • #5
  6. peoter.karantov@gmail.com Thatcher
    peoter.karantov@gmail.com
    @ToryWarWriter

    Reminds me of a party convention I went to a few years ago,
    and I was talking about how we stacked the deck in some ridings to get our
    delegates elected.

    The other side complained, “Hey, its totally not fair, you
    used tricks like that to win!”

    And I was like, “You really think our opponents in the
    Liberal party, are going to fight fair?
    If your not willing to do whats needed to win, Im not going to vote for
    you.”

    Were talking political power here. Serious real life power. Its not for amateurs or the faint of heart.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I find this very depressing

    I’d add refreshingly honest as well.

    • #7
  8. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Rick Wilson:The interior culture of the House is characterized by an obsession with ego, position, power, and the financial goodies that committee positions and leadership favors bring. John Boehner had to hold his numbers, and had tools in the toolbox to do so. Are you angry that some of it was outright bribery in the form of commitments for spending in home districts? Tough. Way it goes. Does it enrage you that he promised some members choice committee assignments, or threatened the removal of others from plum spots? Tough. Way it goes. If you’re going to fight political battles, fight them on the terrain on which they actually exist, without emotion or heroic visions of your own righteousness.

    Boehner also understands that the majority of our majority aren’t fire-breathing warriors; many are backbenchers — solid, decent conservative members who aren’t in Washington for the wrong reasons, but who aren’t going to set themselves on fire for the movement. They’re not squishy RINOs (this is the most conservative caucus in history) but they are of a more practical bent. Boehner has a lot of experience in what kind of goodies can be handed out, and knew how to play those folks like a fiddle.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Obviously Boehner has a lot of experience in Congress.  And yet we find that he either can’t or won’t get out of his own way when it comes to getting “played like a fiddle” by the Obama administration and the Democrats.

    • #8
  9. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    This describes so many of the fights on the Right of the last couple of years so well.

    • #9
  10. user_137118 Member
    user_137118
    @DeanMurphy

    Yeah, Great!  Boehner is great at manipulating Republicans to get what he wants.  What about manipulating Democrats?

    Is it because the currency is power and spending?  And conservatives want less of both?

    • #10
  11. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

    • #11
  12. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    The King Prawn: #2 “The best I thought could be hoped for was forcing a second vote just to get the point across that we are ultimately in control. Perhaps I’m wrong about even that.”

    While I am quite pleased with my own representative, Tom Price, I am utterly certain that he does not get his marching directions from me.  Neither does anyone else among the 435 members of the House.

    The best that can be said is that we cast votes for people to represent us.  If your district gets some federal largess, your congress person can come home and be lauded for making sure that something important was done in your district.  That is how this works.

    If Congress can manage to kill some projects that don’t need to be done, that would be wonderful.  If they manage to pay some of the bills while reining in spending, that would be wonderful.

    Assuming that they will replace one of the two men who kept the Republicans together – with the Speaker being the one who moved good legislation from the House to the Senate (Harry Reid’s domain) to die there – is mind boggling.  Boehner is where he is for a reason.  Boehner brings money into the Republican Party, much to be spent on House races, for a reason.

    Spending emotion on one’s like or dislike to Boehner is a waste of energy and time.

    • #12
  13. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Well my brand new congressman, David Rouzer who replaced a retiring blue dog, Mike McIntyre, put up a facebook page explaining his vote for Boehner.  My response was “you failed your first test”.  If he keeps it up he can expect to be looking for work in 2016…

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Rick Wilson: One of my favorite World War II propaganda posters is …Winston Churchill’s scowling visage. Beneath it, in bold type are two words: “Deserve Victory.”

    Deserve Victory

    • #14
  15. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    Thank you for this!

    This need to be repeated loudly and often… “Boehner also understands that the majority of our majority aren’t fire-breathing warriors; many are backbenchers — solid, decent conservative members who aren’t in Washington for the wrong reasons, but who aren’t going to set themselves on fire for the movement. They’re not squishy RINOs (this is the most conservative caucus in history) but they are of a more practical bent”

    • #15
  16. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    So I can go back to liking Mia Love on Facebook?

    • #16
  17. robertm7575@gmail.com Inactive
    robertm7575@gmail.com
    @RobertMcReynolds

    The surest way to stop this kind of stuff is to either run for a seat yourself or stop giving money to the organizations run by the Establishment types.  Money is what drives politics, not constituents, not ideology (at least on the GOP side), and not emotion.  Money.  Stop giving it to them.

    • #17
  18. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    the best way to get conservative leadership is to primary House leadership, ala Dave Brat defeating Eric Cantor

    1) much easier to overcome name recognition and money advantages in a House race vs. a Senate race

    2) more targets to choose from

    3) easier to campaign under the radar from the national media who like to trash conservative Senate challengers

    It’s true that Cantor was replaced with the even worse McCarthy, but that’s only because they think Cantor was a one-time fluke.

    As Milton Friedman would say, it’s not about electing the right people. It’s about scaring the wrong people into doing the right thing.

    • #18
  19. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    Robert McReynolds:The surest way to stop this kind of stuff is to either run for a seat yourself or stop giving money to the organizations run by the Establishment types. Money is what drives politics, not constituents, not ideology (at least on the GOP side), and not emotion. Money. Stop giving it to them.

    truth is GOP doesn’t depend on individual small donors much for their money

    • #19
  20. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Well written, good points.

    It was a necessary fight, however bad Gohmert, Yoyo, and the other members of the counter-Boehner faction may have screwed up.

    Now it’s time for everyone to CTFD. Give Boehner (and McConnell) 6-12 months to get to work then see what they achieve.

    It would be helpful if Boehner took the right lesson from this, that a significant fraction of Republican voters are on the verge of mutiny. But I doubt he will. The Repubican Majority has, and increasingly will lose sight of the fact that they are the majority not because the voters love them, but because the majority of voters are concerned about the direction the country is headed.

    If, for example, there’s “comprehensive immigration reform” without the actual building of a border fence, there will be terrific blowback from Republican voters. Ditto failure to bring Obamacare repeal to Obama’s desk. Let him veto it, but they promised to make the effort, now they need to make the effort.

    If there’s no accomplishment of at least getting bills to Obama to sign or veto in the next two years, they are going to have a steep hill to climb in 2016 if they try to campaign on “vote for us we’re not as stinky as the other guys” again.

    • #20
  21. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    Can anyone say how the McConnell/Boehner congress will be different than the Lott/Hastert congress?

    • #21
  22. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    Can anyone say how the McConnell/Boehner congress will be different than the Lott/Hastert congress?

    Neither Trent Lott nor Denny Hastert will serve in it.

    • #22
  23. user_51254 Member
    user_51254
    @BereketKelile

    Butters:the best way to get conservative leadership is to primary House leadership, ala Dave Brat defeating Eric Cantor

    That clearly didn’t work. Cantor is gone but Boehner is still Speaker, along with several other leaders in other key positions.

    If you want change in leadership you gotta get the majority of Republicans elected who are all committed to a particular agenda that the leadership knows they have to deliver. Obviously, that’s a tall order. You can get broad agreement at a general level but not on a lot of particulars with that many members.

    • #23
  24. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    And this is why I’m completely unmoved by Rob’s “Getting your party elected matters” bit. Because in the long run, it doesn’t matter. For the first time in my adult life, in three decades of voting, I didn’t cast a vote. I dutifully cast my first vote in 1988, and voted in every election since, primaries included. Until now. Because anyone that really opens their eyes can see this stuff coming. The guilt trip doesn’t work anymore. I got tired of being Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football. I was laughing reading about the the GOP freshman that campaigned on voting against Boehner nervously explaining to their constituents why they voted for Boehner. It’s so much easier just letting go knowing that truthfully… truly… your vote doesn’t really matter. George Wallace was right nearly 50 years ago. Not a dimes worth of difference.

    • #24
  25. captainpower Member
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    As skeptical as I am about Boehner, it could be worse.

    Republicans are publicly talking about raising the gas tax because they can only do so now while the prices are low so we won’t notice.

    https://hotair.com/archives/2015/01/08/democrats-and-republicans-agree-its-a-perfect-time-for-a-gas-tax-hike/

    Thankfully, Boehner said equally publicly “not a snowball’s chance in hell” (my paraphrase).

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/102321926

    p.s. Some great comments at National Review (go commenters!) calling Charles Krautthammer (whose opinion I normally highly value) out for being a ridiculous supporter of social engineering via taxation, fantastical predictions about the future, and overly credulous belief in congress to do the right thing long term.

    • #25
  26. Rick Wilson Contributor
    Rick Wilson
    @RickWilson

    CuriousKevmo:No personal affront to you Rick — I appreciate you writing this — but I find this very depressing.

    You’re not the only one.

    • #26
  27. user_581526 Inactive
    user_581526
    @BrianSkinn

    CuriousKevmo:No personal affront to you Rick — I appreciate you writing this — but I find this very depressing.

    Well, yes — one of the great ironies of free societies is that tremendously weighty and significant public policy matters can only be decided by the tremendously frivolous and perverse process of politics.

    • #27
  28. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Has there ever been a congressional leadership election that was about ideology? I think not. It boils down to the perception on the part of the members that the leader is a plus not a minus. “Is this person good for me/us?” To borrow a thought from Michael “Tanker” Dukakis, it’s about competence. I don’t think Boehner is terrible. Or incompetent. We tend to forget lesson #1 from the Gingrich Revolution, you can’t govern from Congress. We tend to over romanticize the mission of a Republican Majority as standing athwart Obama and yelling stop. There are lots of mundane things that need to be done to ensure a minimal level of government function. Like it or not, the state is huge and intertwined in daily life. Obama will always be willing to hold Grandma’s SS check hostage.
    You go to Congress with the leaders you have.

    • #28
  29. user_2967 Inactive
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    I’ll toss a little conspiracy into the mix: I wonder if there has been any speculation as to whether the Steve Scalise story leaked from within the GOP to see whether they could distract the whip’s office in the lead up to the Speaker election?

    • #29
  30. paulebe Inactive
    paulebe
    @paulebe

    Forgive me if this is blindingly obvious, but I often need to be reminded of it.

    We have a representative form of government.  We elect the best qualified person, based on whatever internal factors we bring with us to the voting booth.  If our guy wins, we hope – pray even, that he will live up to the qualifications we envisioned when we voted.  If/when they don’t, we get the opportunity to remedy that in fairly short order, assuming we can get enough of our fellow voters to agree.

    I’d feel a good deal better if our elected representatives stopped looking at polls, stopped paying attention to media outlets (including, maybe especially, Fox) and just stuck to the principles they showed up with and voted accordingly.

    When it comes to this particular dramedy, Rick is, depressingly, spot on. The culture of Congress is nearly 230 years in the making.  The status quo (palm-greasing, back-slapping, non-transparent decision-making, committee assignment dangling, disloyalty punishment) will continue until either a plurality of the Congress and/or voters decide they are no longer OK with this.  It’ll take getting a heck of a lot more like-minded folks than we’ve got there now, apparently.

    Until then, we do what we can to influence our reps, work to get more folks elected to join them, and pray we’ve got time till civilizational Armageddon/rot overtakes us all.

    God Bless Texas

    • #30

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