Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Astroturf Wars!

I'm sure there will be much to-do about the letter several conservative bloggers have sent to the Club for Growth, which includes this passage:
This is not only a choice of ideology but of character, and it is our responsibility to bring Mark Neumann's lack of character to your attention. While we do not question Neumann's past contributions to conservatism while he was a Congressman, his actions during last year's campaign are completely unbecoming of a conservative candidate.
Now, normally when you've just called someone a motherfucker it would seem appropriate to elucidate the reasons for the label, but that doesn't happen here. The letter immediately switches to a get-off-my-lawn demand for "the national conservative groups and individuals" to stay away from the Wisconsin race. What gives?

So let me ask the obvious question here: what about Mark Nuemann's 2010 campaign for governor was so "completely unbecoming of a conservative candidate"? As I recall, he lost by 20+ points and then promptly stood behind Walker as the party's candidate. I don't remember any really negative TV ads being run against Walker, nor any mailings claiming that he had a mulatto love child, nor a whisper campaign doubting the sincerity of his heterosexuality, etc.

Seriously, what about Neumann's campaign was so offensive?

From an outsiders perspective the only thing Neumann seemed to do wrong was ignore the party establishment, who told him in numerous ways that the state GOP wasn't interested in a hot primary. Then, when Neumann ignored those entreaties he forced Walker to the right by staking very conservative issues while Walker was trying to craft a more moderate image that would appeal to general election voters. This seemed to have the effect of make Walker look a little silly as he was constantly trying to out-conservative Neumann's positions. Evidently, this strategy seemed to work since both Walker and the state GOP (which also took the unprecedented step of endorsing candidates in 2010, likely because of Neumann's insistence of staying in the gubernatorial race) unleashed a last minute spending blitz just before the primary that they probably would have rather saved until the general election.

And that was the last we've heard of Mark Neumann ... until he started thinking about running for the Senate again. So why has the old wooden stick-in-the-mud Mark Neumann suddenly become the source of Nuemania? Probably because he brought a date to the party this time.

I'm going to have an enjoyable time watching the astroturf wars in Wisconsin this coming years. It's clear that there's a large market in Wisconsin for supporters of competing conservative interest groups with bottomless resources and that this internecine cold war is going to erupt into skirmishes over the next few months. The letter signers have signaled support for Americans for Prosperity in the past in one way or another: it should come as no surprise that they aren't keen on competition (despite a professed love for free markets).

But before we get to the Sharks vs. Jets dance-off, the Club for Growth represents a very real concern for conservatives in Wisconsin. The COG has an absolutely abysmal record of championing quixotic conservative candidates, shepherding them through GOP primaries and subsequently getting slaughtered in general elections going back to their endorsement of Steve Laffey in Rhode Island in 2006. These endorsements, have cost Republicans sets in the U.S. Senate and the Club's catastrophic endorsement of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware last year probably cost the party control. In both of those instances the Club was able to essentially hijack the primary process from state GOPs that were so severely marginalized in strongly Democratic states their ranks were populated with mostly hardliners.

If that's happening in Wisconsin, if the GOP ranks are being filled with the Kim Simacs of the state (the lunatic conspiracy theorist whom the Club endorsed and supported in Jim Holprine's recent recall election), then get ready for King of the Hill-type royal rumbles to determine who's the most conservative in the years to cme. When that happens, it won't be in the incremental way in which Mark Neumann pushed Scott Walker to the right in 2010, it'll be with Kim Simac creaming "Where's the birth certificate!" at the top of her lungs.

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