One of the crucial things in understanding why things happen in the Republican Party and the conservative movement is the financial motive for those involved. The fact that a lot of people make a lot of money by being conservatives is always lurking in the background of Republican politics. It sets up an incentive structure that is at times very different from the usual reelection motive, possibly affecting everything from how politicians position themselves on issues to something as basic as how professional conservatives assess the risks of winning and losing.

All of this is back in the news today, with a Politico story reporting on one of the worst kept secrets of the conservative movement: Right wing talk shows are sponsored by conservative think tanks — and talk show hosts then cite those think tanks in return. Steve Benen is right to tie that story to other cases of for-profit endorsements by prominent conservatives. One could also add that Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, and Christine O’Donnell, losing Senate candidates from 2010, all have found ways to monetize their losing campaigns.

What’s going on here that there’s simply a lot of money to be made in the relatively small but amazingly lucrative market niche of catering to enthusiastic movement conservatives (what my brother David S. Bernstein calls the conservative marketplace).Normal political incentives are still important in determing how politicans act — Hill Republicans move to the right because they’re terrified that they will be the next Bob Bennett, the Utah Senator who was defeated for renomination by obscure Tea Party candidate, now Senator, Mike Lee. But the fact that there’s easy money to be had by being a famous (or perhaps notorious) conservative adds a whole other set of incentives to act extreme.

In short: In today’s conservative marketplace, crazy equals money.

This is not to say that Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann or even Rush Limbaugh is necessarily only in it for the money. It’s just that it’s worth keeping track of all the incentives that political actors are faced with. And on the conservative side, there simply is a strong financial incentive of which everyone involved is certainly aware, and which plenty of people exploit.

How much was Herman Cain’s debate performance and subsequent minisurge in the polls worth to him in the conservative marketplace down the road? How much will Michele Bachmann realize on her well-received performance this week? And the big one: how much was it worth to Fox News and to conservative radio hosts that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States? I’m certainly not saying that GOP presidential candidates don’t want to win, or that GOP politicians and Republican-aligned media actually prefer losing because they can profit from it. It’s just worth keeping in mind the entire incentive structure. It’s key to understanding movement conservatism.