The deepening split among Republicans is somehow strangely reminiscent of a recent movie, Killing Them Softly, based on a George V. Higgins novel and starring Brad Pitt. The publicity materials say it's about "dumb guys who think they're smart" and wind up "causing the local criminal economy to collapse."
Spoiler alert: Things don't end well for them.
Tea Party Republicans may want to take heed. They've been endangering the economy for lawful and unlawful enterprises alike, and some people are becoming unhappy. Now the GOP appears to be facing a showdown between ideological purity and the self-interest of the powerful.
Greed vs. extremism: Who do you root for in that conflict?
Trouble in Paradise
Last week some deep-pocket Republican donors expressed grave dissatisfaction with their party's shutdown and even graver concerns about the possibility of a government default. There's ideology, and then there's the desire to turn a profit. In the GOP, those two forces seem to be on a collision course.
The Washington Post reported that "tensions bubbled up" at a recent meeting of Karl Rove's two fundraising groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. "People are totally annoyed," said one attendee at the Four Seasons Hotel event. (Some people can afford to be annoyed in comfort.)
Why wouldn't they be annoyed? Markets have been taking a hit during the shutdown, and we could experience a full-scale financial crisis if the debt ceiling deadline approaches with no sign of a deal.
Conflicts of Interest
One of the largest known donors to Rove's Crossroads organization, according to Open Secrets, is the Contran Corporation. Contran's product lines include titanium oxide pigment, used in paints, makeup, sunscreen, vitamins and food supplements. It's also in the waste disposal, ignition systems, and furniture businesses.
Most of those businesses will be hurt if people stop cut back on goods and services, which is what happens when consumer confidence falls the way it has been recently. Contran's chairman, 81-year-old Harold Simmons, is as politically troglodytic as they come, but the company itself isn't likely to be pleased with a political party that tampers with its fortunes.
Other major Crossroads donors include Sheldon Adelson, through the Adelson Drug Clinic (Sheldon Adelson gave $42,000,000 to political groups in 2012 through this purportedly charitable organization) and the Sands casino. Adelson's casino businesses would presumably take a hit in a collapsing economy,
He may be too ideological to care. But homebuilder Perry Homes and commercial real estate firm Crow Holdings would also take a severe hit in a new recession. So would TRT Holdings, which owns Omni Hotels and Golds Gym. Same goes for executive search firm Chartwell Partners, and fellow Crossroads funder Weaver Popcorn. ("Better taste, better value, better for you: Pop Weaver popcorn!")
Coolidge vs. Cruz
But the Crossroads gang's money doesn't amount to a hill of popcorn compared to the mega-corporations behind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Crossroads' donors may be divided over the Tea Party's tactics, but the Chamber's corporations speak with one voice: It will financially support Republicans who oppose the shutdown. Meanwhile, a number of big-corporate CEOs agreed to meet with Obama, a confluence of events that led the generally pro-Democratic Talking Points Memo website to proclaim: "Big Business Takes Sides With Obama."
These campaign donors are Republicans in the tradition of Calvin Coolidge, who said that "The business of Self-enrichment's their only real ideology. They may say "that government governs best which governs least," but what they really believe is that "that government governs best which enriches me most."
Most Republican politicians understand that. They'll cheerfully endorse all sorts of big-spending government programs, if they enrich large corporations like those who fund the Chamber or groups like Fix the Debt. Those groups' agendas are well suited to those donor-friendly Republican politicians (and some Democrats) who know when to dial down the small-government talk. Social Security cuts? Sure. But you won't find them cutting corporate farm subsidies or major defense programs.
It's a game: Small government for thee, but not for me.
The Cheap Seats
Boehner and like-minded Republicans seem to get it. But Cruz and the other Tea Party Republicans are True Believers. They really seem to believe that government, in all its forms, should be eliminated. Boehner and friends may pretend that Obamacare, made in Mitt Romney's image, is a Socialist plot. But the Cruz crowd actually believes it.
Old-line Republicans may be cynical, but Cruz and his friends are something even scarier: They're committed. Boehner and his contingent spout irrational rhetoric to hide their true agenda. Cruz's crowd does it because their thinking is irrational. When they spout incoherent madness, they do it with all the fervor of the deeply idealistic - and with more than a hint of the fanatic.
And here we are, watching from the bleachers. It's tempting to grab a soft drink and a big bag of popcorn - any brand but Pop Weaver -then kick back and enjoy the action, especially since the party's popularity is taking a beating during this fight. But this is a game in which either side's victory - or a prolonged stalemate - is a loss for the nation.
If Republicans remain deadlocked, or if the Tea Partiers prevail, we could be facing a full-scale depression. But that realization could leave us in the odd position of rooting for the corporate interests. It's true that they're a safer and more predictable adversary, because they're rational and won't let the economy collapse. But their greed is profound and their resources all but limitless.
Let's face it: No matter who wins, we lose. So we'll keep our mouths shut and stay up here in the cheap seats.
And right now it is, as the expression goes, anybody's ball game. Here's some of the latest play-by-play:
Sen. Rob Portman, a Corporate Republican, proposed a "compromise plan" that reads like a wish list from Corporate America: tax "reform" that protects today's low rates for corporations and high-income individuals; Social Security cuts through the "chained CPI"; and even harsher spending cuts layered on top of the today's sequestration reductions. It's a non-starter, because the True Believers consider Portman a heretic.
The House toyed with proposing yet another "bipartisan supercommittee" to work on budget cuts, modeled on the unsuccessful efforts of corporate-friendly "bipartisan" groups like the Simpson/Bowles Commission, 2011's Senate/House "supercommittee," the Senate "Gang of Six," and other efforts designed to give big-money initiatives a noble and politically acceptable gloss. The public always hates their work anyway, so why bother?
Republican Congressional leaders may agree to delay the debt ceiling crisis in order to prolong negotiations, which undercuts Harry Reid in the Senate but apparently conforms to the President's preferences.
President Obama agreed to meet with Congressional Republicans and Democrats, which seemed to help reassure the markets, and hosted a number of major-corporate CEOs in the White House.
John McCain was yelling at other Republicans again.
Heritage Action, a conservative fundraising group which has received funding from the Koch Brothers, said it opposed linking Congressional debt ceiling action to Obamacare. The group did say it continued to support a government shutdown aimed at defunding the health care law - which is somewhat ironic, since the law is largely based on the work of its sister institution, the Heritage Foundation.
But if you can't take a joke like that, you're probably not a Republican.
It's hard to know which side will prevail, but as always: our money's on the money.
It's almost a shame. The Tea Partiers, though terrifyingly deluded, seem to love this country. But their kind of love will destroy it. The Chamber crowd seems to view the country merely as a market to be milked, drained, and discarded. They'll prevent a catastrophe, but only to prolong their exploitation. Let's face it: There's no happy ending.
Which takes us to the final scene of Killing Me Softly, after Brad Pitt's cleaned up the problems threatening the "local criminal economy" and his sponsor's balking at paying his full price. They're sitting in a bar watching an idealistic Obama speech from 2008. "This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community?" says Pitt, who might be speaking for every corporate executive and politician in the country. "America's not a country. It's just a business. Now (effin') pay me."
If the Tea Partiers win, God knows what they'll do to this country. And if the corporatists prevent a financial crisis, next thing you know they'll grab a handful of peanuts off the bar and say: This is a business.
Now pay me.