The right's self-defeating new business scheme

The "Shutdown Obamacare!" strategy conservatives are pushing may be political suicide, but it's great for donations

Published September 17, 2013 2:45PM (EDT)

Jim DeMint           (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Jim DeMint (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Convincing House Republicans to pursue impossible goals with dubious tactics is the conservative movement's business ... and business is good! Seriously, business is really good. Defunding Obamacare has been a boon for funding PACs and nonprofits. The conservative intramural debate over a potential government shutdown is pitting Republican political leadership against conservative organizations, and the organizations won't be swayed by political arguments. Here's National Review's Robert Costa, whose entire piece today is is worth reading:

But these organizations, ensconced in Northern Virginia office parks and elsewhere, aren’t worried about the establishment’s ire. In fact, they welcome it. Business has boomed since the push to defund Obamacare caught on. Conservative activists are lighting up social media, donations are pouring in, and e-mail lists are growing.

One side is fighting to win the next election, the other side is collecting valuable signatures. The Senate Conservatives Fund, one group at the heart of the fight, has amassed 1.3 million. The Senate Conservatives fund was founded by Jim DeMint, current president of the Heritage Foundation, a hugely influential right-wing organization that seems to be shifting from think tank (boring!) to PAC and pressure group. Because donors respond much more favorably to attack ads than they do to white papers.

As I've said a hundred times before, the conservative movement is essentially a self-perpetuating fundraising machine. This is not to say that Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are insincere in their belief that subsidies and a network of statewide exchanges for the purchase of private health insurance will destroy liberty forever, I'm merely saying that the campaign to convince voters and legislators that Republicans can delay or defeat Obamacare this month is a lucrative one, for many people.

When there isn't an election going on, these groups need other reasons to convince people to send them money. The Obamacare fight, like the IRS scandal before it, works beautifully. Here's U.S. News and World Report's Brian Walsh, a former Republican operative, on the scope of this campaign:

In fact, the Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action, the political arm of the once well-respected Heritage Foundation, have spent more money so far on attack ads this year against House and Senate Republicans than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee, combined. All the while, virtually every Senate Democrat up for re-election in 2014 – all of whom were the deciding vote on Obamacare – has been given a free pass by these groups.

Once you "sign" a "petition" by calling or clicking, you are invited to donate money to help finance the fight against the tyrannical healthcare law. (And then you may receive either a bumper sticker or a copy of Mark Levin's book "Liberty and Tyranny.") You end up on a list -- a list that is worth a great deal of money to the organization -- whenever you attend a rally. Participating in calls increases loyalty to the group and drives more donations. Heritage Action had a "nine-city national tour over the summer" and Brent Bozell's ForAmerica "made over 50,000 phone calls to congressional offices."

Whether or not the Republicans actually end up causing a government shutdown, these groups have already won. Whether or not Obamacare is delayed or defunded, they've already won. Some annoyed Republicans are accusing shutdown-pushers like Ted Cruz of "not dealing in reality," but Cruz is decidedly reality-based. He's just selling unreality to his constituents -- not just Texas voters, but the entire nationwide network of pissed-off and increasingly delusional conservatives who fund the great right-wing money carousel. He becomes a star, and they get to feel like they're an integral part of an existential fight for America's future. (They also get a bumper sticker and a bulk-purchased copy of a conservative media hack's ghost-written book.)

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

MORE FROM Alex Pareene

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Conservative Movement Government Shutdown Heritage Foundation Obamacare Republican Party