Pat Caddell: This Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is Exactly What Threatens the Tea Party Movement

While this is a tad wide of our usual focus, the outcome of the November midterms has the potential to have significant economic implications. I ran into an old colleague, an investor and sufficiently serious Republican donor to have gotten invited to both Bush inaugurations. Surprisingly, he was not keen at all about the prospect of a Democratic rout. The reason? He believes the economy needs more stimulus right now and thought there were lots of useful targets.

While the outlook is deservedly poor for the Democratic party, and a lot of candidates up for reelection are distancing them from Obama, a big wild card for both parties is the Tea Party. One issue that has come into focus is the extent to which big corporate interests such as the Koch Brothers, are trying to harness this movement for their own ends.

Pat Caddell, the public opinion pollster (best known as Carter’s pollster), agreed to let me post this message on Sal Russo, which was prompted by a New York Times story over the weekend. First, an extract from the article:

Unlike many of the newly energized outsiders who have embraced Tea Party ideals, Mr. Russo, 63, is a longtime Republican operative who got his start as an aide toRonald Reagan and later raised money and managed media strategy for a string of other politicians, including former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York. His history and spending practices have prompted some former employees and other Tea Party activists to question whether he is committed to, or merely exploiting, their cause.

Mr. Russo’s group, based in California, is now the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates, raising more than $5.2 million in donations since January 2009, according to federal records. But at least $3 million of that total has since been paid to Mr. Russo’s political consulting firm or to one controlled by his wife, according to federal records.

While most of that money passed through the firms to cover advertising and other expenses, that kind of self-dealing raises red flags about possible lax oversight and excessive fees for the firms, campaign finance experts said.

“They are the classic top-down organization run by G.O.P. consultants, and it is the antithesis of what the Tea Party movement is about,” said Mark Meckler, a national spokesman for Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of grass-roots organizations that does not endorse or contribute to candidates.

Caddell’s comments:

I am quite familiar with Sal Russo in California where he cynically sabotaged the Republican Party to fatten his wallet. In 2002 he propelled Bill Simon into the governor’s race primary against former la mayor, Richard Riordan, fully knowing that Simon’s pending- but then generally unknown- legal problem’s with a failed savings & loan- made his candidacy untenable in a general election against the highly unpopular Democratic incumbent, Gray Davis.

All this effort was for the purpose of lining Russo’s purse with consulting needs. Simon did upset favorite Riordan and when on to lose to Davis having been fatally crippled by the predictable revelations of his ongoing problems. (for the record, Simon was eventually cleared- but long after he had lost and been publicly and politically damaged.)

The next year when the grass roots movement arose to recall Gray Davis, Sal Russo tried to horn himself into the recall effort as a leader of a rival group- and raise contributions from unsuspecting donors to again enrich himself.

Although Russo failed to achieve his goal in the recall effort, he has taken the same approach to the tea party movement- with more success apparently; and arguably with similar results to the cause he claims to champion. (It is not mere coincident that three of the candidates Russo’s group has pushed hardest-
Angle/Nevada, Miller/Alaska, & O’Donnell/Delaware are iffy if not problematical in states the GOP were fully expected to win at the outset of 2010)

Nor sadly, is he alone, particularly on the right, in utilizing this model of self enrichment to snooker honest, unsuspecting, passionate Americans.

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  1. killben

    Unless you have a grassroot movement championed by leader of the caliber of Martin Luther King who fight for a principle, it is going to be old wine in a new bottle whether you label the bottle as Republican, Democrat or Tea Party.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Or a single issue, but it would have to be a third rail kind of thing under current rules. The Tea Party is largely just anger driven and largely incoherent. They don’t give a damn about financial responsibility or they would have come into being prior to the election of an African-American as President.

      The third rail would have to be an overwhelming moral issue which transcended normal divides (i.e. slavery). I suppose an environmental/energy party might come into being, but that would likely be co-opted anyway.

  2. Peter T

    OK, scam artists are trying to milk the political game. Is this surprising when total campaign expenses increases despite the recession and are on course to eclipse the expenses for 2008, despite this year not being a presidential election?

  3. Hugh

    We have a completely corrupt political system where even the whackos are getting fleeced? I didn’t see that coming. /s

  4. Kevin de Bruxelles

    I see this latest manifestation of the Tea Party as just an attempt by the political elites to savage this election for the Democrats. Since you don’t have to be the brightest star in the winter sky to figure out that enthusiasm is pretty low for the Democrats on an absolute scale, and considering that in the long term it is better to have the Dems take the blame for the coming cuts to Social Security, the only answer is to make Obama and the Dems look good on a relative scale by convincing people to vote against some whack-jobs on the Right. Obama has benefited from this dynamic twice before so far in his rise to power. In 2004 he was lucky enough to draw Alan Keyes as his opponent. In 2008, when even a mediocre John McCain was leading in the polls despite some obviously reckless behaviour, it was only when Sarah Palin – just about the only politician in America with less experience than Obama – was thrown on the ticket, that Obama moved ahead. It seems the same pattern is repeating itself with Christine O’Donnell and Co. If the media can just convince enough people that nuts like O’Donnell are about to take over, then just enough people will hold their noses and vote Democratic and help them keep a tiny majority, and in the process ensure that Social Security will be on the chopping block in 2011.

    1. LeeAnne

      That’s so machiavellian an analysis and so plausible. Could that be possible without unlimited corporation campaign funding?

      From your prospective, that I’ve now adopted and added to mine thank you, the corporatists (spell checking doesn’t like this no matter what), corporatocracy would be my preference and ‘fascists’ is accurate but loaded with ancient history that doesn’t communicate effectively what’s happening now and leaves younger generations in the dark with something that sounds simply like an epitaph or swear word. We should come to some agreement on this. Neocons are winning by f’g with the language -perfecting it.

      my point is, given this analysis … the corporatocracy owns the whole game.

      1. kevin de bruxelles

        Yep, it’s only possible with corporate financing. If corporations are financing both wrestlers in a WWF match, for example, these corporations have the right to decide which actor takes the fall. Same goes for the current American political system.

        I think corporatocracy is the correct term as it denotes rule by corporate wealth and power. This is different than corporatism (among other examples, Italian Fascism) which was an attempt to bring together the state, corporations, and labor to resolve conflicting interests but where the state plays the leading role. In the US it is the opposite, the state increasingly exists only to support (play the role of parasitic host) and protect the corporatocractic elite. The key to understanding corporatocracy is that it is a form of aristocracy, the rule of the few, with the difference being from a classic aristocracy it is not directly birth but instead corporate power and wealth that determine who rules (although birth and power do tend to coincide). There are two natural enemies to an aristocracy; democracy and autocracy. In medieval Europe for example we saw both forms at war against the feudal aristocracies. A sort of democracy developed in the free cities and eventually city-states whose mass infantry of free citizens was formed into powerful pike phalanxes that were eventually was able to defeat aristocratic armies of knights. On the autocratic side we saw the rise of absolute kings and their nation states, for example Louis XIV, who were also able to defeat aristocrats and eventually also most of the small independent city states.

        So in response to corporatocracy there will be two tendencies, one vision would be towards societies of closely knit small landholders or empowered urban workers who have a stake in defending their rights and are able to stand up to the aristocrats. The other tendency would be to hope for an all-powerful Great Leader to come to the rescue. To protect themselves from democracy (the threat of the many) our current elite are busy destroying any sense of a secure and proud “freeman” class by sending jobs overseas and spread insecurity. They are also busy importing “illegals” who fill the role of semi-slaves, and who are just happy to be in the US and are too busy just trying to survive to ever muster the will to fight against corporatocractic interests. To protect themselves from autocracy they tightly control the US political system and make sure that no potential “Great Leaders” are able to arise and fill the Presidency from where they would potentially have a chance, were it their intention, to gather enough power to threaten corporatocractic interests.

        So it is important to recognize that, for better or worse, we will see (are seeing) tendencies towards, on the one hand radical democracy, and on the other fascism, in response to the growing aristocratic rule by corporations.

        1. EmilianoZ

          That’s a brilliant analysis!

          I have one question. Why are the people incapable of organizing into a real 3rd party that will cater to their interests? That would be the most obvious solution, workable within the current democratic framework, with no need for new city states or fascism.

          1. Kevin de Bruxelles

            Thanks Emiliano!

            I certainly agree that we should attempt the third party (or fourth party) route before going all city-state on them!

            The problem is coming up with a good platform. I tried a couple months ago but I got frustrated and gave up. I find it is very easy to criticize but hard to create. Putting policies to paper will tend to divide people since frankly the best path is probably half the times towards the left and other times more towards the right. It would be a great topic for a thread sometime for people to have to submit a third party platform on a series of policy areas.

            My first plank would be total public financing of all political campaigns. And the budgets for these campaigns would be quite modest.

          2. EmilianoZ

            Talking about a 3rd party, I just came across an article James Fallows (The Atlantic) wrote in 2005. It’s like an exercise in science fiction. Many things he predicted have not (or will probably not) materialized, but the real point of the exercise was of course an analysis of the country’s situation and this analysis looks pretty sound to me.

            Interestingly he predicted a Democratic president for 2008 (although for the wrong reasons), a Republican one for 2012 and for 2016 one from a 3rd party! Unfortunately he doesn’t describe this 3rd party’s platform.


            One observation:
            By 2016 politics will probably be the affair of GenX-ers and Millenials rather than baby-boomers. Baby-boomers seem to have been mired in culture wars. Do you think that will be less of a problem for their successors?

          3. Peter T

            > Why are the people incapable of organizing into a real 3rd party that will cater to their interests?

            Because of the spoiler problem: Voting for a third party might hurt your interests, because it can make it easier for the party to win that you dislike the most. The party system is a result of the election system – the current election system of plurality winners with party primaries forces the existence of two major parties with special interest groups fighting it out within each party for the primary. All alternative election systems from Ranked Choice Voting to Proportional Elections seem to me better than the current election system.

    2. kstills

      Sorry, but this post is laughably absurd.

      The ‘Tea Party’ is folks like me. We read the economic blogs, see the results of 30+ years of poor economic policy by both parties, and have decided enough is enough.

      I could care less about witchcraft, masturbation, gay marriage or any other wedge social issue. I want the next batch of candidates to attack the Federal, State and Local deficits and restore the country to the job creator it once was.

      That means accepting less from the government, reducing our overall expectations for retirement and adjusting to a lower standard of living while these changes take place.

      Which I’ll gladly accept in order to leave a better future to my children.

      1. kevin de bruxelles

        I’m not questioning the motives of those who voted for O’Connell. What I am saying is that now that she has won, the forces of the political status quo will use all the stories of witchcraft, wanking, or whatever to convince many more voters to stay with the Democrats out of fear of the wingnuts, just like so many people were convinced to vote for Obama, not because of him, but in reaction to their hatred/fear of Sarah Palin Just as in the example from Yves’ post given by Pat Caddell, do you really think the financial backers of O’Connell didn’t know about all those crazy things she said on tape? Are these tapes really bugs or are they perhaps features?

  5. DownSouth

    Instances like this, along with recent discussions with several Tea Partiers in my own family, make me question whether the Tea Party movement is truly a populist movement.

    The rank and file participants of populist movements of the past at least seemed to have known where their own interests lay, and advocated for same. The agenda was self-serving.

    The typical Tea Party participant, however, seems to be such a victim of propaganda that she doesn’t even know where her own self-interests lie, much less which policies promote those interests. They are being duped, and often advocate positions that are harmful to their own interests, but quite helpful to the interests of their handlers.

    In this the Tea Partiers seem to have more in common with past European fascist movements than past American populist movements.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Indeed, they have muddled, dissonant views on race, taxes, regulation, environment, and war, often supporting shortsighted positions against their own interests while empowering the very forces that oppress them. The propaganda factor lends credence to Kevin’s theory of boardroom chessboard intrigue.

      But this is more than a tempest in a teapot, and the powers that be may not be able to fully harness the monster they create. Blowback is unpredictable. The division and instability they’ve sown so deliberately through propaganda and jingoism is now so deep that it is quite likely to reach upward into the ranks of predators, causing upheaval ripe with potential for substantive change. Embrace the uncertainty.

    2. Siggy

      For me, the Tea Party is the Me Party. I just sense that the Tea Partiers have a little too much focus on Randian concepts. Perhaps they are randy and frustated and the Tea Party is as good a hookup as any other party.

      As to Pat Caddell isn’t he one of those poltical operatives, a spin miester? But then the business relating to Bill Simon, that’s worth knowing.

  6. acat

    “In this the Tea Partiers seem to have more in common with past European fascist movements than past American populist movements.”

    I see no way around this idea, even parts of the dumbocrats are fascist in their desire to have gvt+big biz control all as long as they can pass down some table scraps.

    I see no way around this outcome given the general wild eyed fear of “the terrorist”@TM.

  7. nowhereman

    I am so dishearted and jaded. I am now to the point where I am skeptical of everything and everyone. I like to believe that most people are generally good with good intentions, but the more I read, on any subject, I find that the medium, no matter which is used, (internet blogs, main steam media outlets, political or financial) everyone is talking their “book”. I find it hard to believe anything anymore.
    Perhaps it is as the Buddha said, “It is all an illusion”, and the truth cannot be found in anything “out there”, and not even within ourselves as it pertains to “out there”.
    I’m so disillusioned I can only weep for what will become of us and the society we’ve built.

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