What Is the GOP Grassroots?

The Atlantic Wire

"GOP Grassroots" is one of those terms that can mean very different things. It can mean thousands of activists, drawn from Christian conservatives and Tea Partiers, gathering because they feel the the country and culture is drifting dangerously off course, or it can mean the paid consultants, like  FreedomWorks, who think a video in which two female interns, one dressed as a panda and the other as Hillary Clinton, simulated oral sex, is hilarious. 

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The video, according to Mother Jones' David Corn, was commissioned by Adam Brandon, executive vice president of the FreedomWorks, the group that, led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey until he left after  an organizational civil war after the election, was instrumental in building up the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010. The absolute tone-deafness of commissioning a panda-on-Clinton sex video for social conservatives is another data point showing the distance between conservative voters and the supposedly outsider groups who claim to represent them.

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When Karl Rove's American Crossroads announced it would create a group, the Conservative Victory Project, to make sure strong candidates -- instead of Todd Akin types -- won Republican Senate primaries, the "GOP grassroots" flipped out. It was a war between the establishment and the base. Or so it seemed. But Politico's Alexander Burns points out that nearly every single conservative group that attacked Rove was represented by just two suburban Washington companies: CRC Public Relations and Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. "Call them the anti-establishment establishment," Burns writes. These two firms have represented "countless conservatives-versus-Washington fights and political campaigns" over the lat 15 years, Burns reports, from Steve Forbes for President to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to Rick Scott for Governor. Clients include well-established outsider groups like the Federalist Society (which employs CRC) and the Susan B. Anthony List (which employs S&B).

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But no one is objecting to this centralization of anti-Washington power just outside Washington. "If there’s any tension between slamming the Washington 'consultariat' and hiring some highly experienced Beltway PR advisers to magnify their message, it’s not necessarily obvious to those on the right who were leading the anti-Rove charge last week," Burns says.

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Maybe these groups are just reflecting the sentiments of the masses. But it seems more like they're trying to justify their sentiments by pointing to mass support. The fight at FreedomWorks revealed the degree to which the outsiders were insiders. Armey tried to stage an armed coup against president Matt Kibbe, who was the subject of an internal investigation into whether he was using FreedomWorks to personally enrich himself. "The question is whether Matt Kibbe used FreedomWorks resources and donor funds to live the high life," an ex-FreedomWorks staffer told Mother Jones' Korn. Major FreedomWorks donor Richard J. Stephenson, founder of of a chain of for-profit cancer treatment centers, stepped in to stop the war by paying Armey $400,000 a year for 20 years.

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Looking ahead to 2016, National Journal's Ron Fouriner reports that Republicans are genuinely scared of a third-party candidacy on the right from someone like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. "The party," Republican consultant Scott Reed told Fournier, "is irrelevant." If so, blame the well-established "grassroots."

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