Conservatives Eat Their Own for Profit

Conservative organizations attacking Republicans are just helping themselves … and Democrats.

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Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, attends the House Rules Committee meeting regarding floor debate on legislation that would repeal the health care overhaul bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011.

As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2010, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, led what has been cited as the "GOP's greatest expansion in the House since the Eisenhower Administration."

For more than two years, Sessions spent countless hours recruiting strong candidates and raising tens of millions of dollars that were pumped into Republican campaigns around the country. On November 2, 2010, House Republicans won a net gain of 63 seats and Nancy Pelosi's days as speaker of the House were over. 

And as a congressman representing the 32nd Congressional District of Texas for the last 16 years, Sessions has also been a staunch conservative. Among other distinctions, he's received an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life and a 97 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. His conservative credentials are second to none.  

Yet this week, the Senate Conservatives Fund – a super PAC run out of a Capitol Hill townhouse by operatives of former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint – called Sessions a "Texas RINO" (that's a Republican-In-Name-Only for those unfamiliar with the term) and threatened to "actively recruit and fund a primary challenger" against him next year. 

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

In a widely-distributed fundraising email that harkened memories of General Custer exhorting his troops before the Battle of Little Bighorn, SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins went so far as to write, "We can't sit back and let wishy-washy Republicans like Pete Sessions destroy our freedoms."

The career-threatening offense committed by this lifelong conservative leader? As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions does not appear willing to help march Republicans off a political cliff and risk the House majority by shutting down the government – cutting off checks to military families and seniors and putting at great risk the recent spending cuts achieved through sequestration – over a fantastical fight to "defund" Obamacare. 

Never-mind, of course, that in 2011 even the Heritage Foundation, which today has joined with SCF to attack Republicans over Obamacare, called it a " dirty little secret" that Obamacare can't truly be defunded. 

Never-mind, of course, that as a senator himself in 2011, now-president of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint voted for a continuing resolution to keep the government, and hence, Obamacare, "funded," which he and his allies equate today with supporting the law. 

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Never-mind that even staunchly conservative senators like Tom Coburn have correctly observed that Republicans, after failing to win control of the White House and Senate in 2012, flat-out do not have the votes currently to cut off Obamacare funding and, more importantly, to repeal-and-replace this terrible law.

Never-mind that after funding disastrous Senate candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, the Senate Conservatives Fund played a key role in the Republicans' failure to win that Senate majority.  

None of that matters – this is about political cash, not political principle.

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. 

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

You see, money begets TV ads which begets even more money for these groups' personal coffers. Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is apparently a very profitable fundraising business. It's also a detriment to the future of the Republican party and the critical effort to defend the House and win back the Senate in 2014.

Fortunately, more and more conservative members of Congress are standing up and joining with Coburn and telling these groups, enough is enough. RollCall yesterday quoted Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling saying recently:

The folks at Heritage Action and [the Club for Growth] don't have their pictures on my voting card or yours. And I'm tired of them elevating small tactical differences to a scorecard, and I've told them that.

While Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodall said he thought Heritage Action and the Club for Growth were jeopardizing the sequester spending cuts:

"You risk losing on spending in the effort to win on Obamacare," Woodall said. He said he thought the two groups were "overpromising" conservatives and that, even if conservatives achieve successes with spending and Obamacare, Republicans would be "underdelivering" in the minds of constituents.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

And North Carolina Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers told the Washington Postlast week:

"They've used bully tactics, and they're going way beyond the scope of promoting conservative ideology," she said. "They are now trying to influence members of Congress through what I consider very threatening actions."  Ellmers said she relied on Heritage Foundation research when she was first elected in 2010 but no longer: "To me, it is tainted."

In the days ahead, the rest of their Republican House colleagues have an important choice to make – to sheepishly follow groups that are currently existing solely to attack Republicans, while ignoring the Democrats, or to focus on winning the long-term war, and not a one day battle with a pre-determined outcome. 

In our great democracy, you affect public policy by offering a vision, influencing a majority of public opinion and winning elections – not by burning down the House, attacking your allies, and falling on your sword. 


Updated 11/5/13: Brian Walsh remains a paid adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.