Former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, made quite a splash in November when he promised to raise and spend $8 million through his Defending Main Street PAC to fight off Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries.
In the view of many traditional Republican interests, the rise of the Tea Party was double-edged. It took the House majority away from Democrats, but it also swept into Congress a new, ideologically charged brand of Republican that many in the business community view as less reliable.
LaTourette's ambitious plan is part of an attempt to solve that problem, and it raises an important question. Can the “moderate” or “establishment” or “business-centered” wing of the GOP — whatever you want to call it — win over the hearts of the party faithful?
One test case in 2014 is the Republican primary in Idaho's very Republican 2nd District. LaTourette's group is spending money to help eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson, R, fend off a challenge by attorney Bryan Smith, who is backed by the economically conservative Club for Growth.
LaTourette's PAC has just spent over $100,000 to air a new ad in this Idaho race that surprised me when I first saw it last week. It uses footage from a debate I attended on March 5 at the American Enterprise Institute, which was moderated by the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney. It was a spirited affair in which LaTourette squared off against the Club for Growth's president, former Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., on the future of the GOP. Near the end, Chocola said he respected Nancy Pelosi because she had been willing to sacrifice her majority in Congress to advance her ideological goals. His point was that he wished Republicans would show such dedication to conservative ideas.
I was not surprised to hear Chocola say this – nor, I imagine, was anyone there. But LaTourette's new ad in Idaho uses this footage, taking it completely out of context. Chocola's statement (“The person I respect the most in Washington – it may surprise you – is Nancy Pelosi”) is offered as evidence that a liberal, anti-Republican group from outside Idaho is spending money to elect Simpson's opponent.
Political ads routinely contain lies and distortions, so the absurd lie at the heart of this ad does not make it unique. But the nature of the lie is especially interesting — and telling.
The moderate GOP counterrevolutionaries can always argue that their candidates are conservative enough. They can and often have argued that the conservatives they face off against are hypocrites. (In this Idaho race, they have attacked Smith for his trial lawyer career and his past opposition to tort reform in Idaho.) The Main Street defenders can also attack Tea Partiers as bloodthirsty purists conducting a damaging purge of the party.
Those arguments are all fair game, and at least worth examining in each case. But LaTourette and his allies have a much deeper problem — a problem that money can't solve — if their strategy is to to disguise themselves as conservative purists, beset on all sides by crypto-Pelosi-lovers. Setting aside the dishonesty employed here to make the case, the Main Streeters cannot win by building up the very sensibilities that put their brand of Republicanism out of fashion in the first place.
The moderates' message, wherever it has succeeded, is one of realism, pragmatism, “common sense.” In Idaho, LaTourette's group has abandoned this for a straight-up appeal to paranoia about liberal Republican infiltrators — in this case, the "liberal" Club for Growth, which has been getting conservatives elected to office for a decade.
That approach could win the Main Street defenders an election here or there, but it certainly won't convince anyone they have something of value to offer the party.DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).