Julia Ioffe’s article about Heritage Action is fascinating reading. As IB notes in comments, it’s not that Heritage was ever non-hackish, but “[w]hat has changed, however, is the organization’s ability to think strategically and act effectively. It’s gone from being an extremely effective hackish pressure group to becoming a much less effective one.” Their contempt for strategic thought, shared by crucial members of Congress, is dumbfounding:
After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.
Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”
It’s not that this inability to think in terms of means and ends is entirely absent from the left; sure, there are people who think that because single-payer is better policy it could have been passed but Obama didn’t even try, or who think that 1. Elect Romney 2. ???? 3. ???? 4. ???? 5. ??? 6. The White House and Congress will be controlled by Scandanavian Social Democrats! is a viable strategy. But, particularly since 2000 discredited irrational spoilerism (and even that was a tiny faction of the left that mattered only because of an unusually close election), this segment of the left has very little influence. On the right, it’s influential enough to actually cause the Republican conference in Congress to run themselves off a cliff again and again.
Their irrationality has even extended to their own influence:
Shortly after this summer’s farm bill debacle (Heritage Action pushed members to rid the bill of its food-stamp half, then still sent out a “no” alert on the revised bill, hanging out to dry members from agricultural districts), the outrage was such that the Heritage Foundation was bannedfrom the weekly lunches of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a conservative caucus of House Republicans. This was particularly ironic as the RSC and Heritage were once interwoven: In the 1970s, Feulner had been the RSC’s first executive director. “It really speaks volumes about a betrayal of trust,” says the Republican strategist. The House GOP aide puts it more starkly: “There are over two hundred thirty bridges to be burned in the House. Over two hundred of them are burned, and they maybe have about thirty more left.”
The frustration grew in the build up to the budget fight as Heritage Action organized DeMint’s nine-city tour, and Needham blitzed the conservative media—giving constituents the impression that defunding Obamacare in one knockout move was perfectly plausible. In meetings, congressional staffers couldn’t even get Heritage Action to entertain the possibility that the strategy might fail. “They never wanted to discuss anything past defund,” recalls the Republican staffer. “We would ask, ‘What if [Democrats] say no and don’t budge, what do you do then?’ They kept saying: ‘That’s not our role. You figure it out.’ ” In an August interview with CSPAN, Needham was asked a similar question: How can Republicans achieve their goal of defunding Obamacare without control of the Senate or the White House? “I think that, rather than trying to figure out where we’re going to be at the end of September,” Needham said, his underbite jutting contemptuously, “we should actually fight for something.”
I also enjoyed this:
DeMint was known nationally as a warrior for purity, spending more of his time seeking out like-minded candidates for the U.S. Senate rather than passing legislation. But, at Heritage, DeMint found kindred spirits in Saunders and Needham, who created a Heritage Action scorecard to grade Republican members of Congress on their ideological mettle. (The standard is so high that, at this writing, the House Republican caucus gets a paltry 66 percent rating.)
But the whole thing is worth etc.