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To be sure, the Republican rank-and-file have long lusted after a pure-hearted conservative warrior, untainted by the compromising realities of governance, willing to feed the preferred belief that moderation leads the party to certain defeat. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson are politically superior to Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and others before them, but are essentially selling the same thing.
I think their greater success to date stems at least in part to the movement-conservative marketplace’s fundamental incompatibility with a successful Republican Party — which the national GOP has taken great strides towards becoming, in the past few election cycles.
For about a decade I’ve written and talked about the effect of what I call the “movement-conservative marketplace,” which is the vast industry making money off of right wingers. Some of it is familiar to those outside of its influence: FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, the National Rifle Association’s political committee, and the like. But much of it you are less likely to stumble across if you’re not among its consumer base. There is a wide-ranging, multi-billion-dollar industry of political committees, think tanks, publishers, web sites, newsletters, and more. (See this 2009 article for more description of how this works.)
That marketplace thrives on discontent. It requires dangerous enemies to warn against at all times, because that’s what the market rewards. That includes Mexicans at the border, Muslims on the attack, and anti-Christmas warriors; it also must include the politicians failing to protect you against these evils.
It is demonstrably true that this marketplace thrives when Democrats have control of the government; they are the easy and obvious opposition to fight against. The marketplace had a massive growth spurt during the Bill Clinton Presidency, stagnated or declined during the George W. Bush years, and exploded during the 2008 Barack Obama campaign and his subsequent years in office.
But that success — via Republican failure — has been blunted as the GOP has made gains. Since 2010 Republicans have held the majority in the House of Representatives (no more fundraising off evil Speaker Nancy Pelosi!), and most of the state governors’ offices.
And, beginning in January 2015, Republicans held a majority in the US Senate as well. Even the Supreme Court remains majority Republican-appointed.
The only Democrat left with any power, it seems, is Obama. And in his lame-duck final year, even he has a diminished power to generate money-making levels of fear and loathing.
As a result, I would argue, the movement-conservative marketplace has increasingly trained its hyperbolic hatred against Republican politicians (and Justices), for betraying their conservative voters. The vitriol against so-called RINOs is not new by any means, but my sense is that it has increased significantly within the marketplace this year — a year in which the greatest celebration in that marketplace came at the ouster of one of the most successful GOP party-builders of my lifetime, John Boehner.
Consumers of the movement-conservative marketplace have been buffeted all year with animus against the feckless establishment Republicans, who are blamed for failing to stop same-sex marriage, ObamaCare, Planned Parenthood, Syrian refugees, Common Core, debt increases, illegal immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, and any other bogey men in the arsenal.
So, no wonder those same consumers want to be seduced by those standing athwart that Republican establishment.
And, naturally, that same marketplace has been, for months, praising those anti-establishment candidates. Of course they are. Not only do Trump and Cruz better fit the narrative they’ve been weaving all year, but as noted above, the marketplace has a strong vested interest in seeing the least electable Republican seize the nomination.
They’re likely to fare far better, financially, with Hillary Clinton in the White House than with Marco Rubio there.
Again, this is partly just an accelerating trend. As recently as 2010 GOP National Committeeman Ron Kaufman could argue to me with a straight face (though I wasn’t convinced) that Southern Republicans tend to respect the “next in line” order of selecting a nominee. By 2012, Kaufman’s man Mitt Romney was struggling to get 30% in those states, against Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul.
But I think it’s accelerated in part because of the GOP’s success in 2010 and 2014 — and the resulting anti-GOP reaction from the movement-conservative marketplace.
That doesn’t have me convinced that an anti-establishment candidate can actually win the party’s nomination. That remains to be seen. But I think it’s worth considering as we contemplate the current state of the race.