After the Republican 'Fall'

Arthur Bruzzone

October 2006

"As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again."

---Chance the Gardener, Played by Peter Sellers in the Film "Being There"

There's truth in those simple words of Chance Gardner. As we watch the Fall (not the fall) of the Republican Party in Washington, and the troubles of certain leaders of conservative community, it's not a matter of votes, who wins or loses, it's about purpose and mission. In politics as in nature, Winter causes a natural pruning that sets up Spring.  A withdraw that leads to the next cycle of action.  (Jeffrey Lord has documented a previous regeneration of the conservative movement in an uplifting article for American Spectator.)

Our "roots" are strong; enough to usher in a conservative Spring once the cleansing is complete. Our first task is to assess above ground marked by corruption, gross slippage of principled politics, and a breakdown in discipline.  As I will suggest later, Senator John McCain's is conveniently positioned to play a key role in this effort that could be crucial for its ultimate success, and, for his chances as a nominee for President. At least when it comes to corruption in Washington.

First, let's take snapshot of the situation -- the despicable case of Ralph Reed, former director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.  He was defeated in his campaign to win the Republican nomination for the lieutenant governor of Georgia. In his political prime, as head of the national Christian Coalition, Reed solidified conservative family values into a solid voting bloc that helped Republicans take over Congress in 1994, and along the way he consulted with half a dozen presidential candidates. 

In his run for Georgia Lieutenant Governor, Reed started out with a huge lead in both the polls and fundraising over his relatively unknown opponent.  But, Reed's connection to the Jack Abramoff congressional lobbying scandal undid Reed.  He lost both his party and his religious conservative base in a Republican primary defeat, losing by nearly 20 points to Casey Cagle, a state senator from Hall County.

As revelations from the Jack Abramoff case slowly leaked out, it appeared that as a lobbyist and consultant, Reed had urged his base to fight tribal casino gambling and state lotteries with the help of $5 million from competing gaming interests in four southern states.

Reed first denied he used gambling funds for his lobbying efforts.  Then stated he didn't know the source of the funds, then said had he known he would not have accepted them, which ran counter to e-mails between him and Abramoff released by the U.S. Senate's Indian Affairs Committee. Despite Reed's longtime opposition to gambling, he and Abramoff set out to protect the Choctaw tribe casino against competition. The scheme called for Reed to organize his fellow Christians on moral grounds to oppose threats to Abramoff's client, without telling them that that client was actually in the gambling business. Emails between the two make clear there was no doubt where the money came from.   Take this email from Jack Abramoff to Reed, "Get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP." And Reed's reply "$225K a week for TV; $450K for two weeks of TV."

"Conservative voters punished Reed for the same kind of duplicitous political behavior he used to build campaigns against".  So noted Time magazine, accurately, in their election night account. 

The case of Ralph Reed is telling.  Reed revolutionized GOP campaigning.  He showed the Republican party the value of grassroots power--- the ground operation.  Until the mid-nineties, the GOP relied on what has been termed the "air war" to win elections.   While the democrats had a ready army of volunteers - union members, environmental activists, and the Left --- the Republicans was forced to rely on direct mail and media ads to compensate for the lack of grassroots volunteers. Reed was the architect for a new prototype GOP operation.  Now with powerful computers, Karl Rove, who was using the same techniques in Texas for the Governor George Bush,  has taken Reed's initial army, Christian activists, and developed sophisticated voter identification programs that can give phone banks and volunteers the tools to deliver a motivating message to the individual targeted voter.  Reed, Rove and Abramoff were all College Republican activists.

So the fall of Ralph Reed is emblematic of the woes of the GOP and the conservative movement.  Reed succumbed to the lure of power and money.  He lied to his supporters. He betrayed his principles; in this case, his disdain for gambling. In sum, he betrayed his cause and his mission. 

Of course, the democrats have their own problems.  Most recently, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid Reid announced he was amending his ethics reports to Congress to more fully account for a Las Vegas land deal, highlighted in an Associated Press report.  That deal allowed him to collect $1.1 million in 2004 for property he hadn't personally owned in three years.   Reid also admitted that he has been using campaign donations instead of his personal money to pay Christmas bonuses for the support staff at the Ritz-Carlton where he lives in an upscale condominium. Federal election law bars candidates from converting political donations for personal use.

The point here is that corruption, the power of lobbyists, and immoral, illegal politics will be a key issue leading up to and including the 2008 presidential campaign. 

And this is where John McCain comes in.  McCain is no stranger to charges of illegal influence of lobbyists. In 1989, the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association of Irvine, Calif., collapsed. Lincoln's chairman, Charles H. Keating Jr., was faulted for the thrift's failure. Keating  told the House Banking Committee that the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and its former chief Edwin J. Gray were pursuing a vendetta against him. Gray, on the other hand,  testified that several U.S. senators had approached him and requested that he ease off on the Lincoln investigation. It came out that these senators had been beneficiaries of $1.3 million (collective total) in campaign contributions from Keating. 

This allegation set off a series of investigations by the California government, the United States Department of Justice, and the Senate Ethics Committee. The ethics committee's investigation focused on five senators including Senator John S. McCain. The ethics committee's special counsel concluded that of the five, Glenn and McCain were not substantially involved in the influence-peddling scheme. Indeed, it was believed at the time that the Democratic party, which at the time controlled the Senate, wanted McCain -- the only Republican in the group -- to remain a target of the investigation in order to avoid the impression that the scandal was only a Democratic problem.

John McCain most recently co-authored The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) which regulates the financing of political campaigns. It is also known as the McCain-Feingold Bill.  The new legal limits became effective on 1 January 2003.

Both by his experience with Keating and his leadership in the effort to reform Federal campaigns, McCain can now lead the political and moral cleansing of the Republican Party.   This can distinguish him from both the democrat's nominee, and those in his party who will promise reform.  The scandals of Republicans --- Senator Tom Delay, Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, Congressman Randall Harold "Duke" Cunningham and Ralph Reed --- have tarnished the high moral ground of the GOP and the conservative movement.  Only by acknowledging the fact will the Fall of the movement be a temporary phase, a political winter, leading to a stronger more robust regeneration.  McCain has some work to do.. in the garden.

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