The Quiet Counter-Revolution Gets Louder: Essential Lessons for the GOP
For some years, below the surface, a quiet counter-revolution has been advancing in the base of the Republican Party and in the country in general, while the party’s establishment elites in Washington have continued on with business as usual, seemingly oblivious to the unrest of the rank and file, as if fly-over red state voters could be taken for granted. This counter-revolution was conceived and undertaken to change the trajectory of America’s departure from its founding principles -- to bring reform to the GOP rather than to overthrow the party. In short, the hope was to reverse Republican establishment diffidence about out-of-control, unaccountable government and its attendant crony corruption.
Perhaps the best way to understand and assess elites is by their choice of the players and the “playbook” that guides them, which together determine what happens on the ground. The GOP lost the last two presidential elections largely because neither candidate had a winning persona or campaign formula. In contrast, the upstart, minimally qualified Democratic candidate won by virtue of a superficial but alluring charisma and a superior ground game. In addition to a very effective use of social media, that ground game primarily consisted of unrelenting offensive tactics and strategy taken out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals playbook: deception and employing any means to discredit and keep the opponent off balance. Alinsky, who died in 1972, is recognized as a Marxist fellow-traveler whose teachings have been central to revolutionary political activism in the U.S. since at least the 1960s.
In response to election results tied to a failing Republican establishment, in 2009 the Tea Party movement sprang up as a truly grassroots collection of citizen activists. The early Tea Party had no central hierarchy; its participants were motivated by a deep patriotic passion to reverse the country’s precipitous decline as measured by such simple indicators as trillion dollar deficits and unsustainable debt, stifling regulation, and the overall lack of transparency and accountability throughout government. Ironically, Barack Obama had successfully used the same themes embraced by the Tea Party in his 2008 campaign stump speeches. Once in office he walked back huge -- Alinsky fashion -- on every one of them, without so much as any reporting in the mainstream media about Obama’s deceitful reversal.
Obama’s disrespect for the rule of law was revealed at the outset of his administration in his unprecedented action that overturned longstanding code and precedent of bankruptcy law. His bailout and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler stood the hierarchy of capital claims on its head, arbitrarily destroying bondholder value while rewarding unions and giving the federal government a majority ownership of GM. This not only set the lawless tone to his administration, but it could also be seen as a Marxist victory of labor over capital.
If changing existing law by executive fiat were not enough, the next catalyst for Tea Party engagement was unprecedented political corruption in the making of new law for which the Barack Obama took credit. The Chicago way was on full display in maneuvering to pass the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, better known as ACA or ObamaCare. In addition to using blatant lies and secrecy to pass the healthcare reform bill, Obama secured the votes of two reluctant Democratic senators in Louisiana and Nebraska by offering their states $300 billion and $100 billion respectively, in what was brazen federal government bribery using taxpayers’ money. And when union support for ACA waivered, Obama likewise bought their support with a $60 billion payoff with taxpayers’ money.
Meanwhile, Tea Party leaders turned their eye on stopping Obamacare by preventing a Democratic filibuster with the special election of Scott Brown to an open U.S. Senate seat following the death of Ted Kennedy -- a seat safely held by Democrats since 1953 in the blue stronghold of Massachusetts. Three weeks before the special election on January 18, 2010, Brown was down in the polls. But with Tea Party activist support, Brown was energized, campaigning across his state out of his pick-up truck and cutting through his opponents attack ads.
Brown was considered a moderate, but he stood firmly with Tea Party positions, being committed to ending backroom deals behind closed doors, simplifying and lowering taxes, eliminating wasteful government spending and, most importantly, stopping Obama’s government-run healthcare fiasco. In the end, Brown’s successful election that shaved the Democratic vote to a maximum of 59 -- denying them the ability to overcome a Republican filibuster -- came to naught as the Democrats outmaneuvered the Republicans by changing the rules, turning the hugely expensive and disruptive healthcare bill into a mere budgetary reconciliation vote, which required only a simple majority. Unprepared for a fast curveball, the Republicans were once again stiffed at the plate.
The rise of the Tea Party may have started from recognizing that Washington had become corrupt and tone-deaf to the voices of the people. But the greater catalyst for its rise was exasperation with the Republican establishment’s failure as an opposition party -- in particular its inability to check a radical President and his subservient party.
In the three elections since the Tea Party came into being, Republicans promised that they would defund or repeal Obamacare, stem the flow of illegal immigrants, reduce trillion-dollar deficits and debt, rein in regulatory excess, and stand up to unlawful executive orders. But they failed to deliver on any of these. Republicans regained a majority in the House in 2010, and expanded that majority through the next two election cycles, and finally won a majority in the Senate in 2014. But for all its talk, the Republican-controlled Congress has passed, to date, only four bills that have earned a veto from President Obama. Admittedly, getting a bill through the Senate may at present require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but the GOP could overcome that by adopting the precedent of the so-called “nuclear option” majority rule legislative procedure already implemented only a few years ago when the Democrats ruled the Senate. The fact remains that the GOP appears weak in the face of a resolute, even dictatorial, president with the present veto rate dramatically lower than that of any of the last ten presidents. Nearly 10 times more vetoes were issued each by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton during a similar period in power.
The fecklessness of the GOP establishment has clearly emboldened Obama and the Democrat Party. Within weeks of the November 2014 mid-term Republican landslide, President Obama announced his executive order granting amnesty to some 5 million illegal aliens. The potential failure and consequences of another uncertain and ineffective Republican response was forestalled by a court ruling that halted implementation of Obama’s executive order.
As the new Congress took office in 2015 with newfound Republican majorities in both houses, GOP leaders should have been able to shake their legacy of being “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” But that didn’t happen, as was shown in their handling of Obama’s unfolding nuclear deal with Iran. A nuclear agreement with a hostile terrorist state should surely be subject to the Constitutional requirements of a treaty, with ratification necessitating a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate. But Obama outmaneuvered the Republicans once again by refusing to allow his negotiated deal to be designated a treaty.
Rather than fighting for and standing firm for the Constitutional requirement of treaty status for such an agreement, Congressional Republicans embraced the Corker bill, which ended up turning the Constitution on its head, allowing Obama’s deal to go through unless Congress could mount a 2/3 vote to overcome his inevitable veto of their bill rejecting the Iran deal. The net effect of it all was to allow an agreement with enormous consequences involving the world’s foremost terrorist state and opposed by all U.S. allies in the region -- clearly a matter of treaty stature -- to go into effect with a 1/3 vote by Congress. Staggering and unbelievable.
The lesson here is simple: the Constitution is the playbook for governing the U.S. and when the GOP fails to uphold and fight for it they do so at their peril and that of the nation.
Looking back, a few Tea Party congressional candidates failed in their electoral bids -- and deserved to fail -- but on balance many more have been elected in both the House and the Senate. The GOP establishment’s response to the Tea Party has been mixed and even disparaging. There were times when it went along with mainstream media’s ridicule of diverse and unfettered Tea Party patriotism on display. That response was both predictable and understandable. Individuals and movements who challenge the status quo in ways that upset the existing elite power structures are invariably perceived as threatening and evoke great resistance. Nothing new here.
The response of the GOP establishment and hostile and jaded news coverage of the Tea Party was in fact a sign that the latter was on to something very big, beyond anti-incumbent campaigns or single-issue debates of either party. Democrat establishment leaders also recognized that the Tea Party was on to something and that it needed to be checked. They apparently felt sufficiently threatened that they supported IRS orchestration of an illegal process to undercut funding for the Tea Party by withholding tax-exempt status for the obvious purpose of thwarting its popular common sense message from reaching voters.
In the end, what the IRS couldn’t entirely stop, the Democrat apparatchiks in the media finished off with tar-and-feather labeling, creating the perception that the Tea Party was essentially a bunch of racist and bigoted wierdos, more appropriately called “tea-baggers.” By applying classic Alinsky strategy of freezing and polarizing the target, the opposition was able to largely marginalize and isolate the Tea Party from sympathy.
But the unrest across the land has continued to fester, becoming greater with every passing week and month. Liberalism as projected in Obama’s foreign policy has wreaked unprecedented and untold harm by rewarding enemies of the U.S. and undermining its allies. Liberalism in domestic policy and philosophy has been shown to be utterly bankrupt, with results on display in Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and many other cities under liberal Democratic rule. Illinois, whose capital is Springfield, but whose control is firmly entrenched in Chicago -- the birthplace of Saul Alinsky whose playbook has guided both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- now has the lowest bond rating of any state in the union.
While political correctness has become the great silencer in America, people still have eyes and ears enabling them to grasp that liberal rule is not about solving problems. It is about maintaining and advancing political power by perpetuating angst and division in the land, pitting one constituency against another: women against men, minorities against whites, workers against business owners and management, the poor against the rich, the LGBT minority against the normal majority, and disenfranchised blacks against white cops. In many liberals’ eyes, America is now more a nation of victims and haters than it is a land of opportunity. Class warfare may have started with Karl Marx, but modern-day Democrats have refined and applied it successfully in ever-expanding ways.
For the time being, the giant megaphone the Tea Party previously used to mobilize the silent majority into political involvement and to wake up the Republican establishment has been taken up by Donald Trump. In normal times, a candidate of Trump’s background and narcissistic temperament would simply not be viable. But the failure of the GOP leadership to marshal what’s necessary for an effective opposition party has been so egregious that many are willing to consider Trump. He has shown that he is no fool who can be walked over, as well as being a tough negotiator and a winner -- three critical qualities that are the antithesis of the present Republican establishment.
To his credit, Trump has used this megaphone to break the chains of political correctness and put the media in their place. He has singlehandedly increased the viewership of Republican debates by three or four-fold over audiences of past presidential election cycles. No doubt, many viewers have been drawn in by the entertainment value of the Donald. But they are also exposed to the conservative and commonsense ideas and personalities of the other candidates.
Clearly it would be good if the fascination with Trump winds down by the time people get more serious about considering what America needs in its next president. As the other candidates get out from his shadow, they can better assert themselves and communicate policy positions in contrast to Trump’s -- many of which lack detail and have blowback factors that may make them neither feasible nor desirable. Beyond that, the process going forward will evolve and should empower the other candidates to lay bare Trump’s character flaws that include both an outsized ego and petty narcissistic tendencies. In the end, it is vital that the process elevate and deliver a candidate who has both presidential character and the abilities to lead the nation in facing some of the greatest challenges since its founding in both domestic and foreign policy.
Fortunately, the Republican bench of presidential candidates is stronger than it has been in recent memory, bristling with leaders of substance and character in contrast to a very thin and weak Democratic bench of same old-same old and socialist Bernie Sanders.
It is said that failure is the best teacher in life. Let’s hope that events, decisions and mistakes of the Republican establishment that led to the rise of the Tea Party and Donald Trump can serve as a wake-up call to GOP leaders to heed the counter-revolutionary voices of the people. Adhering to the Constitution as the nation’s guiding playbook, which has been a first principle of the Tea Party, would have served the GOP well in potentially saving the party and the nation from two of the hallmark disasters of the Obama years: the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Iran nuclear deal.
Another important lesson for the GOP establishment from the Tea Party is to make clear to all who vote Republican that they are respected and valued, regardless of being colorful Tea Party patriots from rural areas south of the Mason-Dixon or newly engaged urbanites, Yankee patriots and others captivated by Donald Trump. If the GOP tent is truly big, party leaders must make sure every Republican voter and faction is welcomed and valued. There should be no fly-over voters. The additional lesson from Trump to the GOP is that is that there is no substitute for being tough when necessary to deal with counterparties or enemies at home or abroad.
In sports, winning teams painstakingly study the plays of their opponents so that they may defeat them. Republicans need to get serious and equipped to anticipate and overcome the Saul Alinsky playbook, with all the nuances of its 12 Rules for Radicals, which now guides the dictatorial president and his lockstep Democrat Party.
At a time when America faced fewer challenges, a former GOP presidential candidate once said that “moderation in the protection of liberty is no virtue [and] extremism in the defense of freedom is no vice.” Unusual times require an unusual candidate that has a winning persona with the courage to face and overcome hostility with the triumph of substance over form. Today, the U.S. faces its greatest threat -- that of irreversible decline -- and it needs an unusual kind of leader more than ever.
Scott Powell is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a national think tank with headquarters in Seattle, and satellite offices in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Florida. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org