Anatomy of a failed Tea Party strategy


David Koch (Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/picklefork88 via iStock/Photo montage by Salon)

Eric Stern, Montana’s deputy secretary of state, has written a good piece in Salon about why the Koch brothers’ well-publicized attempt to torpedo Medicaid expansion in Montana failed so spectacularly.

The piece is a few days old now (and was published one day before Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law a piece of legislation also hated by the Kochs’ minions) and it is obviously very partisan, but I think Stern is mostly right.

His main point is that the anti-Medicaid campaign was so clearly run by out-of-state stooges that it offended regular Montanans. Who likes being hectored, lectured and talked down to by a bunch of punks in suits—punks who can’t even be bothered to know, within a million or two, what the population of Montana is?

Stern also makes this good point:

“Tea Party threats aren’t what they used to be. The Koch team used an implied threat against any Republican who leaned in favor of Medicaid expansion: vote for it, and we’ll tell your base voters that you resemble Obama, causing you to lose in the next primary. Nobody cared. Many of these legislators have already fended off such challenges. As Tea Partyers become crazier, successful challenges like these have become rarer.”

It really does seem to be the case that Montana’s Tea Partiers have jumped the shark. Over several election cycles they managed to convert a number of formerly moderate Republicans into hard-core ideologues while scoring primary victories over moderates who would not surrender their principles.

But once the bloodletting was done and the moderate Republicans who remained standing took a good look around, they realized there was nothing to be gained by trying to work with members of their own party who equated compromise with treason. So they may have been even more inclined to work with Democrats, and definitely more inclined to vote in favor of the dark-money bill, since the primary-election attacks they suffered under were funded by dark money.

And then as a kind of coda to this fascinating tale of democracy in action, there was the guest opinion in the Gazette on Friday, written by Rep. Sarah Laszloffy, a Laurel Republican, and signed by some of her colleagues, in which many tears were shed over legislative “maneuvering” on the part of the Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans.

Just imagine someone being vile enough to engage in maneuvering! In politics! Here was Laszloffy’s main point:

“Although Montana elected 59 Republican legislators in a 100-person House, a handful of liberal Republicans sided with the Democrats to form a majority and muscle through the largest increase of welfare Montana has seen in our lifetimes.”

What she seems to be saying is that because a majority of House members were Republicans, a majority of the majority party should have been able to call all the shots. This is the crowd that professes to worship the Constitution, now bitterly complaining that a majority of lawmakers are allowed to make laws.

It is karmically pleasing to see the dogmatic faction of the GOP floundering so helplessly. Even those formerly loaded words—”liberal” and “welfare”—just don’t pack the punch they once did, having been so overworked for so many years.

All indications are that the GOP fringe has learned nothing from this session. They will circle the wagons a little tighter, fiddle with the language in their loyalty oaths, redouble their efforts to impose groupthink … and gradually fade into the sunset.

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