By STEVE LATOURETTE
While the Tea Party is busy lining their pockets, the rest of the Republicans are actually trying to get things done.
Vocabulary.com defines a grifter as: A grifter is a con artist—someone who swindles people out of money through fraud. If there’s one type of person you don’t want to trust, it’s a grifter: Someone who cheats someone out of money.
Historically, grifters have taken many shapes. They were the snake-oil salesmen who rolled into town promising a magical, cure-all elixir at a price. The grifter was long gone by the time people discovered the magical elixir was no more magical than water. They were the sideshow con men offering fantastic prizes in games that were rigged so that no one could actually win them. They were the Ponzi scheme operators who got rich promising fantastically high investment returns but returning nothing for those sorry investors at the bottom of the pyramid.
Over the last few years we have seen the rise of a new grifter—the political grifter. And the most important battle being waged today isn’t the one about which party controls the House or the Senate, it’s about who controls the Republican Party: the grifting wing or the governing wing.
Today’s political grifters are a lot like the grifters of old—lining their pockets with the hard-earned money of working men and women be promising things in return that they know they can’t deliver.
Political grifting is a lucrative business. Groups like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots are run by men and women who have made millions by playing on the fears and anger about the dysfunction in Washington. My former House colleague Chris Chocola is pocketing a half-million dollars a year heading the Club for Growth; same for Matt Kibbe heading up FreedomWorks (and I don’t think Kibbe’s salary includes the infamous craft beer bar that FreedomWorks donors ended up paying for). The Tea Party Patriots pay their head, Jenny Beth Martin, almost as much. These people have lined their pockets by promising that if you send them money, they will send men and women to Washington who can “fix it.” Of course, in the ultimate con, the always extreme and often amateurish candidates these groups back either end up losing to Democrats or they come to Washington and actually make the process even more dysfunctional.
Just look at what happened this past week, when hard-right House members with extensive ties to these outside groups, egged on by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, snarled up a sensible effort to pass a bill that would at least begin to address the crisis of undocumented children at the U.S.-Mexico border. It was an embarrassing display of congressional dysfunction, and it showed that the grifting wing has learned nothing from last fall’s shutdown fiasco.
The grifting wing of the party promises that you can have ideological purity—that you don’t have to compromise—and, of course, all you have to do is send them money to make it happen. The governing wing of the Republican Party knows that’s a damn lie. Our Founding Fathers set up a system of government that by its very nature excludes the possibility of one party or one ideological wing of one party getting everything it wants. Ted Cruz, who quotes the founders almost every chance he gets, ought to know this.
Even Ronald Reagan—who won in two of the biggest landslides in American history—was forced to compromise. It was President Reagan who cut deals with Democrats to extend the solvency of Social Security and put the federal budget on a sounder footing. It was Reagan who famously said that someone who votes with him 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally. Reagan’s record and rhetoric stands in marked contrast to the grifting win of the party today, even as the grifters invoke his memory in their disingenuous appeals.
The governing wing of the Republican Party understands that compromise is not the root of all evil in Washington—indeed, it is the essential ingredient in moving forward any set of conservative policies like those that Reagan fought for.
While the grifters hold a great deal of sway over the Republican Party for now, they are not the majority—not by a long shot. As with any good Ponzi scheme, there are relatively few grifters; the challenge is exposing their scam.
Exposing the grifters is exactly what is happening in the Republican Party today. Groups like the organization that I head, groups like the Chamber of Commerce, business groups and traditional Republican organizations are working to run the political snake-oil salesman out of town—or at least out of our party.
This isn’t about ideology. The Republican Party is a conservative party. This fight is about whether we will govern or continue to let the grifters profit off of the dysfunction in Washington.
Our beef isn’t with the rank and file Tea Party members, either. We understand their justifiable frustration with Washington. Our beef is with the grifters who run the organizations in Washington that are fleecing these hardworking men and women.
We face serious challenges in this country today. America is piling up mountains of debt that threaten the long-term solvency of our country. Our economy continues to struggle to create enough jobs to keep pace with population growth. We have a broken, overly complicated tax code. We face serious, dangerous threats abroad from old enemies and new ones. If the Republican Party is going to be a part of finding solutions to these challenges—and I know it can be—then it is time for grassroots Republicans to say no to the grifters and yes to governing again.
The good news is that it appears that the grifters are running short on time. Unlike in previous election cycles, in primary after primary— from Ohio to Idaho to Kentucky to Mississippi—rank-and-file Republicans haven’t bought what the grifters are selling.
If we are to have a shot at winning the White House in 2016 and actually implementing conservative policies – rather than just fundraising off of talking about them—then this is a trend that must continue. It’s time to run the grifters out of our town.
Steve LaTourette is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Ohio’s 14th district as a Republican who now heads the Main Street Partnership. This article was originally published in Aug 3, 2014 in POLITICO