The Koch brothers just took a huge step toward a GOP civil war

The libertarian billionaires have exerted influence on the GOP for years. But now they're actively taking the reins

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 12, 2015 7:45PM (EDT)

David Koch                  (AP/Mark Lennihan)
David Koch (AP/Mark Lennihan)

One of the more enduring metaphors of this political era is bound to be that of the Republican Dr. Frankenstein and his Tea Party monster. What was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America's communities has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries. The origin story of how this came to pass is well documented in histories like Rick Perlstein's "Before the Storm" "Nixonland" and "The Invisible Bridge," which (among other things) trace the spirit that rose out of the rubble of the 1964 debacle of the Goldwater campaign and grew into the movement that has dominated American politics for over 30 years.

Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract principles about "freedom" and "small government" even as the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with both the religious right, which sought to enforce "family values," and the military industrial complex, which grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong "conservative" identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and adopt another name to describe themselves.

Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.

All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party's electoral success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent program. But it never really was coherent. Freedom and small government are often in conflict with social conservatism which seeks to enshrine its religious values into law. Small government and low taxes are in conflict with an imperial foreign policy and national security establishment that demands vast sums of money and requires that much of it be spent in secret. Essentially the three legs of the GOP barstool have always been in tension.

The party started to lose its bearings as long ago, as in the '90s when it took on the self-righteousness of a religious crusade with its unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president. The undisciplined behavior that characterized that time was sanctioned by Party officials and led by long standing movement figures and conservative media stars. They apparently didn't realize that they were creating a monster of a grassroots base that would someday call itself the Tea Party. In fact, it seemed to come as complete surprise when the monster turned on them in recent years and took the Party into its own hands. Republicans who had spent half a century deriding their opposition for being "appeasers" suddenly found themselves walking on eggshells, scared to death to cross their own voters who took all their messaging seriously and expected results. Even with a congressional majority, Republican elected leaders found they no longer had the power to negotiate or make a deal on the party's behalf.

They also did not seem to realize that this monster is extremely wealthy and very, very powerful. And it is taking control:

The RNC is now openly arguing ... that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.

The Republican base has exerted its strength at the ballot box the last few cycles by challenging and beating incumbents, even some in the leadership like former House majority leader Eric Cantor. Now the Koch Brothers, the wealthy patrons of the Tea Party cause, are taking over the voter data files. You can certainly see why the party establishment might be alarmed.

They evidently didn't see this coming when they entered into an unorthodox sharing arrangement with the Koch's political empire to share information about their voters prior to the last mid-term elections. But when the deal expired and wasn't renewed, many Republican candidates evidently decided to abandon the Party and go with the Kochs. As you can see, Party officials are not amused. Some worry that in the age of Super PACs the Party itself may be becoming superfluous.

The core issue, from [Chairman Reince] Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs — whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party — decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so.

Let's just say that in the Kochs' minds, taking over the Republican Party and benefitting their massive multinational corporation are the same thing. (If you would like to see what it might mean in practical terms if the Koch party were to politically dominate the nation this Rolling Stone article about their business practices will give you nightmares.) And considering that the Kochs have openly worked at taking over the party since the 1980s, this is not exactly a secret.

But the irony of the Party that fetishizes money now becoming a victim of the 1 percent monster it has coddled, nurtured and enabled is overwhelming. Unfortunately, that particular beast has been unleashed on all of us and it doesn't seem as though anyone knows how to stop it. The Tea Partyers who come together and vote out a stale incumbent they don't like in favor of a right wing zealot is not something that's good for the country, to be sure. But at least it's democratic, however unpleasant the result.  The idea that a vastly wealthy pair of right wing fanatics could literally take over one of the two major American political parties is more than a little disturbing. It's downright monstrous.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Elections 2016 Gop The Koch Brothers The Republican Party