Money is the sinews of politics, and Republicans have to raise theirs any way they can. Speaking to fears of this administration’s radicalism is a perfectly in-bounds means of doing so. If anything, yesterday’s leaked RNC fundraising document is reassuring on that score: It shows that senior Republicans don’t share the paranoid fantasies of the small-donor base.
But 2 concerns do arise from the leak:
1) It’s one thing for a political party to mobilize anxieties in this way. What happens though when we fund the entire conservative counter-establishment this way? Magazines, think tanks, and all the rest? The desperate need for funds in a time of economic distress has distorted the way so many conservative institutions not only talk – but also, in time, the way they think. It’s my sense that the quality of the work in the conservative world these past 18 months has been nowhere near adequate to the crisis. I often wonder: Has the need to fund our cause by mobilizing fears actually crippled our cause, made it less convincing and less valid than it should have been? Most people cannot sustain cynicism for very long. If your fundraising imperatives require you to SAY that Obama is a Marxist, most of those who repeat the slogan will come to believe it. If your fundraising requires you to pretend that Obama caused the economic crisis he actually inherited, over time you will genuinely forget how the crisis started and why it has lasted so long.
2) An enraged base will entrap the party. If Obama really is demoniacally determined to impose socialism on the United States, there’s no working with him. We can only fight him until we defeat and destroy him or he defeats and destroys us. So what happens when Congress and president must work together? To balance the budget after the recession ends for example? The party will have positioned itself so that any Republican who tries to do anything constructive will stand accused of selling out. As far as our voters are concerned, nothing can happen unless we control everything – and no deal is possible unless we get entirely our own way. That is not in fact the way the leadership of the GOP thinks. The GOP is better than its material, and its leaders are reasonable people with feasible goals. But a mood is growing in the Republican base that despises the higgling and haggling of real politics – preferring freedom from responsibility and the grim satisfactions of radical alienation.