Majority Of The Majority

by digby

Tim Grieve at Salon's War Room pointed me to a fascinating article in this week's New Yorker about the "Republican Implosion," with this wonderful little excerpt, quoting Tom DeLay back-stabbing Newtie:

"I don't think that Newt could set a high moral standard, a high moral tone, during that moment," DeLay says. "You can't do that if you're keeping secrets about your own adulterous affairs."

But wait, didn't DeLay himself engage in an adulterous affair? Well, yes, he did, but he says that was different because he wasn't still having the affair by the time the impeachment proceedings rolled around.

"There's a big difference," DeLay says. "Also," he adds, "I had returned to Christ and repented my sins by that time."

Right. Morality is all in the timing.

But as amusingly illuminating as that is, the article actually brings to mind something else that I think is worth discussing a bit more: what Karl Rove's plans to build the permanent Republican majority really were.

Among other things, the article says:

When Rove came to Washington, after the 2000 election, he envisioned creating an enduring Republican majority—the permanent mobilization of the Party’s broad, socially conservative base. Part of his strategy was to cast as threats, in alarming terms, same-sex marriage, abortion rights, and other bogeymen of the right. It is Rove’s cleverness, combined with his joie de combat, that made him insufferable to Democrats.


Rove believes what he has always believed: that the Christian right and, to a lesser extent, tax- and regulation-averse businessmen will continue to assure Republican victories.

I always find this fascinating. Rove continues to say this and I don't think people have ever really understood what this meant. The man, after all, can count and that coalition is simply not going to be an enduring and mandate-giving majority, even though he mumbles some crap about ebay and Jesus to back up his claim. I don't believe him for a minute. What Rove had in mind was something much more insidious --- and much more revolutionary. The Bush machine intended to build a permanent governing majority not by persuading new adherents --- the whole thing was to design an unbeatable political machine by demobilizing the center and the left.

Here is just one example of how they did that:

Saturday, November 27, 2004

In scuttling major intelligence legislation that he, the president and most lawmakers supported, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.

Hastert's position, which is drawing fire from Democrats and some outside groups, is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.

Senators from both parties, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and others have sharply criticized the policy. The long-debated intelligence bill would now be law, they say, if Hastert and his lieutenants had been humble enough to let a high-profile measure pass with most votes coming from the minority party.

The political calculation in that is far deeper than just scuttling the intelligence vote. Across the board, no matter what the issue, the Republicans actively sought to deny the Democrats anything they could call a victory. And the closer the Dems were to getting one, the more Rove and his boys liked it. It made them look powerful to have the Democrats so frustrated and angry. But it also ensured that elections would stay close and intense ---- good for the base, keeps them involved, spending money and churning the culture war. (Even better for the Big Money boys to do their thing under the radar.)

But this wasn't confined to psychology. As Hacker and Pierson pointed out in their book "Off Center" this form of governance took a number of interesting turns. Aside from the unprecedented graft and corruption that fueled their expensive lifestyles and election campaigns, this plan also enabled partisan redistricting and rule making that favored Republicans in elections throughout the country.

Still, Karl knew that wouldn't be enough. He needed to control the legal machinery to ensure that all these close elections he was engineering would fall his way. So he planted political operatives in the Justice Department and kept a close eye on anything that could affect elections. Just today it's been revealed that he had a hand in the corruption trial of the Democratic Governor of Alabama:

According to Simpson's statement, William Canary, a senior GOP political operative and Riley adviser who was on the conference call, said " not to worry about Don Siegelman" because "'his girls' would take care of" the governor. Canary then made clear that " his girls" was a reference to his wife, Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and Alice Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Canary reassured others on the conference call — who also included Riley's son, Rob, and Terry Butts, another Riley lawyer and former justice of the Alabama supreme court — that he had the help of a powerful pal in Washington. Canary said "not to worry — that he had already gotten it worked out with Karl and Karl had spoken with the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice was already pursuing Don Siegelman," the Simpson affidavit says. Both U.S. attorney offices subsequently indicted Siegelman on a variety of charges. A federal judge dismissed the Northern District case before it could be tried, but Siegelman was convicted in the Middle District on bribery and conspiracy charges last June.

It sounds as though it's possible the case could be similar to the one in Michigan that was summarily thrown out by the appeals court. (That's the one where the crime required that the jury be convinced that ordinary political activity be considered a crime --- which is deeply ironic considering the whining GOP mantra that the Dems are "criminalizing politics." But then if I had a nickel for every hypocritical Republican utterance...)

One interesting sidenote in all this is that the man whose "girls" would take care of Seligman was evidently involved with Rove from way back when he was doing Supreme Court races in Alabama --- and where Rove learned how to game close elections. (For the definitive expose of that operation, this article in the Atlantic by Joshua Green remains the gold standard.)

Rove is not a stupid man. He knows that the GOP base is extreme and that when the great middle gets a clear look at them they recoil in horror. (See Circus, Schiavo.) He correctly deduced that to keep Republicans in power he had to permanently rig the system. So he did. And if it hadn't been for the war it might just have worked. The key to Rove's success was to keep elections close enough to they could steal them. He just didn't have enough time to get the machinery in place before all hell broke loose.

Here's Karl in the New Yorker again:

Rove cautioned against reading too much into polls, or the results of the 2006 midterm elections. “It’s important to keep in perspective how close the election actually was,” he said. “Three thousand five hundred and sixty-two votes and we would have had a Republican Senate. That’s the gap in the Montana Senate race. And eighty-five thousand votes are the difference in the fifteen closest House races. There’s no doubt we’ve taken a short-term hit in the face of a very contentious war, but to have the Republicans suffer an average defeat for the midterm says something about the underlying strength of conservative attitudes in the country.”

More like the underlying strength of the machine he's put in place to steal elections. They aren't very good at governance, we know that. But they have been remarkably good at winning close elections. It failed him this time in the face of an unpopular war and an unpopular president but I wouldn't assume that the machine is permanently diabled. They're just changing the oil. It's important that the Democrats continue to seriously pursue this issue.