The current chaos among Congressional Republicans has a pretty simple explanation, but strangely it’s one I haven’t seen mentioned in top-tier analysts’ commentary. The party’s levers of control have been removed by what I call Big Outside Money (BOM).
It used to be that you got elected to Congress through, in no small measure, the good offices of the party apparatchik. The top leaders were, very often, the top fund-raisers in the party. More importantly, they were the ones who shared large portions of their own war chests with junior members up for re-election. So when the leadership announced the party’s position on a given piece of legislation, those backbenchers who owed their seat and their possible re-election to the top brass knuckled under and voted as told.
Today, the Tea Party and other anti-government hard right-wing groups and individuals are the source of funds for Congressional races. These newcomers have no sense of loyalty to the party; it’s all to the hard-core conservatives who don’t make up the base and certainly not the majority of the party or even of a district’s constituents but do comprise the vast majority of the funding shoring up the otherwise weak representative.
This leaves the party leadership with only one method of controlling members’ votes other than a vain appeal to an unfelt loyalty: committee assignments. Here again, it is BOM that thwarts the leaders. Formerly, plum seats on key committees meant lots of media exposure and thus greater chances not only of re-election but of career advancement. But in today’s 24/7 news cycle, any idiot who happens to have stumbled into the right billionaire’s sights and gotten himself elected a pawn of that influencer in Washington, can get all the media attention he wants.
There have always been backbenchers. There have always been rebels. There have always been Congresscritters who disagreed with their party and cast renegade votes. But in the past, these folks didn’t last long in the corridors of Congress. Today, they are unintimidated (and in fact unimpressed) by the old trappings of power and control.
I don’t see a way to fix that. I believe the conservative ranks in this nation will splinter into two parties in the near future, leading to a sort of coalition government that is at the core of the instability of so many other countries’ governance.
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