It’s the special-interest organizations’ dirty little secret: When it comes to fundraising, losing is winning. When their agenda prevails, when their side succeeds, supporters get complacent, less willing to contribute when the groups’ leaders sound the alarm, because there’s less of an alarm to sound.
It’s an entirely different matter if the other side gains power. Then the defeated associations can go bonkers, warning of pending doom that can be prevented only if the faithful reach deep in their pockets to save civilization as they see it.
So when the ultraconservative groups like Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America screamed bloody murder about the piddly budget deal negotiated between Republicans and the hated Democrats, even House Speaker John Boehner took a shot at them.
“They are not fighting for conservative policy,” he sputtered in a closed meeting of GOP House members. “They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous.” Never mind that Boehner has tolerated years of abuse from the extremists before he finally had enough; his scathing comments were, uh, right on the money.
What’s funny is that this hardscrabble squabble is about almost nothing. The only reason that the negotiators were able to work out a bargain is because it only nibbled around the edges of the edges. Its main claim to fame is that it purports to take the threat of a government shutdown off the crisis table till after next year’s congressional elections. That’s probably a plus for the GOP, because it seems to remove one of the ways that Republicans can seriously embarrass themselves as they face the voters. They also won out because they were able to fend off an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. On the right, cutting off a lifeline to the desperate seems to be considered a victory.
But hey, it shows that compromise is still possible in Washington, as long as no one gives any ground. The fact that our leaders were bragging about that raises an interesting scenario:
The prevailing opinion has been that this was the year for anything to be accomplished, because it sure wasn’t going to happen in 2014, which is, after all, when members must campaign if they want to return to office. They would be too busy pandering to give any ground, particularly when it comes to controversial matters like immigration reform. Appealing to the base would be the name of the game.
But what if their polls showed that the people were sick and tired of all the bickering and paralysis, so much so that the frightened politicians decided the embrace the concept of actually getting something done? What a revolutionary approach that would be — government actually governing. Accommodation as a campaign ploy. Is that Pollyannaish? Perhaps. Certainly the very suggestion of reason would send panic through the fright-and-fight clubs. Imagine the lengths they would go to in their quest to maintain irrational ideological purity.
Their biggest tactic always has been the threat of using the party primary to attack and defeat anyone on their side who is willing to even entertain the idea of bipartisan cooperation.
After all, in their Orwellian minds, reason is treason, and there’s always someone out there they can run against those they brand as traitors to the cause. But if the polls are correct, and Americans on both sides are simply tired of all the bombast, maybe the less rigidly bonkers candidate might actually survive the primary.
That’s why this could be bad news for Democrats, whose main hope has always been the freakishness of some Republicans. What if they had to run on their record and not against outlandish opponents? They could be in trouble. Because right now, everyone here is failing. Except the fundraisers.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.