What is there to say about the coup and countercoup at FreedomWorks, reported in a great Post article today by Am Gardner? Of course, everyone is focused on the best detail: that when Dick Armey attempted to take over, he brought along an armed escort. Okay, the detail that Armey was eventually bought off for $8 million is great, too, but that part we already knew. If you were wondering whether they were thugs or clowns, it turns out the answer was: both.
The part I liked even more, however, was what was at stake in practical terms. As far as anyone has reported, there were no doctrinal disputes between the Armey faction and their rivals. Nothing about public policy. But alongside what appears to be personality clashes and money-grubbing, there did appear to be one issue of campaign tactics involved in the clash. The faction led by donor Richard Stevenson wanted to waste gobs of money on the futile attempt to reelect Tea Party favorite Rep. Joe Walsh, while Armey preferred wasting enormous sums and embarrassing conservatives and the Republican Party by backing doomed Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri. In the event, $1.7 million went to Walsh, who only lost by 9 percentage points (while Akin lost by 15 points; another couple million dollars wasn’t going to save him).
None of which matters very much to the main importance of FreedomWorks and other similar groups, which is that they scare incumbent Republicans and push those Republicans to worry as much or more about conservative primary challenges than they do about general elections. Still, it’s a good reminder that the main reason for this effect is that politicians as a group tend to be paranoid about elections and easily swayed, not that the groups themselves are in any way masters of the process or ruthlessly efficient in their attempts to coerce elected officials.