John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Imaginary RINO Hunt

Posted on May 1, 2014
No RINO

The Ted Cruz-Mike Lee-Sarah Palin show rode into the State of Oklahoma last week, looking to pick a fight with the so-called “Establishment”.   Palin said she was on a RINO-hunt, presumably because she wants James Lankford, a Congressman and a member of the House Republican Leadership, to lose in a primary.

Lankford is one of the most conservative members of the House and was Tea Party standout when he came into office in 2010.

Palin’s choice, Oklahoma State Speaker of the House, T.W. Shannon, is a former staff member to establishment favorite (and close friend of House Speaker John Boehner) Tom Cole, and has deep ties to GOPAC and to the Republican National Committee.

Lankford thought he had a clear path to the Senate when he announced he was running for Tom Coburn’s seat.  He had risen quickly in the House leadership and had gained a reputation not only as a conservative leader, but also as a gifted communicator.

Lankford is getting hammered by the Palin-Cruz-Lee crowd because he agreed with Coburn that the Ted Cruz strategy of shutting the government down was not very wise.  But Shannon has praised Coburn for his commitment to fighting the debt and would love to have the retiring Senator’s endorsement, which he probably won’t get.

Coburn, like Cole, has remained neutral.

It’s all very confusing.  There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two candidate’s public policy pronouncements, both have deep ties to both the establishment and to the Tea Party, and neither have publicly committed to backing Mitch McConnell for Senate Republican Leader (although they both will probably do so, once they win the primary).

And yet, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee all have put their money on Shannon over Lankford.  Why is that?  Why are these Tea Party heroes getting themselves involved in a Senate primary race which pits two candidates who are equally matched and who would most likely vote the same way?

The answer is simple.  The Tea party movement is not about ideology these days.  It’s about power and money, but mostly money.  By endorsing somebody like Shannon over Lankford, they hope to build enough chits to get him to join their merry little band of mischief makers.

But more importantly, they see the chance to make some money.

The Washington Post recently ran a story that revealed that most Tea Party organizations spend very little of their money in support of any actual campaigns.  They spend most of their money trying to raise more money, and of course, to pay the salaries and expenses of their staffs.

Sarah Palin has become the master of this scheme.  She saw the business possibilities in becoming a full-time campaigner, and quit her job as governor to pursue those opportunities.

Ted Cruz raised millions of dollars for his PAC when he spearheaded an effort to shut the government down over Obamacare.  He even ran ads on conservative radio programs, urging fellow conservatives to give him money so he could make Washington listen.  It was brilliant scheme to raise money, but as a political strategy, it was a sure-fire loser.

I don’ know if Palin and Cruz will make any money by endorsing Shannon over Lankford, but I wouldn’t put it past them.  But I do know that neither of these two candidates would be a bad choice to replace Tom Coburn, and both would ably fill his considerable shoes.  I also know that the primary is not another case of the establishment vs. the reformers or some other non-sense like that, no matter how much Sarah Palin would like you to believe it to be so.