Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sean Duffy

Conservatives and the Quest for Political Purification

For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

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For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

What a shame all this melodrama is a mirage, a farce, a game.

The choice is not, and never has been, between those willing to defund ObamaCare and those willing to fund it. That supposed choice is in fact an illusion. To defund the ACA would require the House and Senate to pass new legislation, which Barack Obama would have to sign. And no one, not even Senators Cruz, Paul, Lee and Rubio, believes the president would do that. 

All the posturing that’s being done to present this as a battle between Intrepid Republicans versus the Surrender Caucus is nothing more than political theater.

It also appears that Captain Courageous himself, Ted Cruz, and some of his colleagues are now engaging—at least for now—in a premature surrender. House Republicans are incensed at Cruz for going wobbly on the filibuster he once seemed to favor, putting all the responsibility back on the House.

“For weeks, House Republicans have said the prospects of passing a defund bill in the Senate are grim, and Senators Lee, Cruz, and Rubio have responded by saying nothing is impossible if we fight hard enough. Now they are getting exactly what they asked for, and they issue a press release conceding defeat and refusing to join the fight they demanded in every TV appearance. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, and do something other than talk,” a House GOP leadership aide told National Review. And Representative Sean Duffy took to Twitter, saying, “House agrees to send ‪#CR to Senate that defunds Obamacare. ‪@SenTedCruz & ‪@SenMikeLee refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender.”

There will be plenty of twists and turns ahead, so we’ll have to see how this all plays out. (Mr. Cruz may have to move forward on a filibuster just to save face.) But it does raise the question: How did this silly idea become all the rage?

For some the answer has to do with pent up fury in need of an outlet, and the effort to defund the ACA is that outlet. It also appeals to those who find it satisfying to turn every debate into an apocalyptic clash. And even if Republicans fail, at least they “fought the good fight.” (Ronald Reagan referred to people of this mindset as those who enjoyed “going off the cliff with all flags flying.”)

But there’s also a tendency among some on the right—not all, certainly, but some—to go in search of heretics. They seek to purify the conservative movement—to eliminate from it the defilement, the debasement, and the corruption they see all around them—and they bring to this task an almost religious zeal. They are the Keepers of the Tablets. And they are in a near constant state of agitation. Living in an imperfect world while demanding perfection (or your version of perfection) from others can be hard. 

This is not conservatism either in terms of disposition or governing philosophy. It is, rather, the product of intemperate minds and fairly radical (and thoroughly unconservative) tendencies. Such things have always been with us; and some of the uncontained passions and anger will eventually burn out. The question is how much damage will be done in the process. 

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Adelson Threatens DCCC With Libel Suit

It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

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It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

I’m not usually a fan of libel suits, and there would be a high threshold to meet here as Adelson is a public figure. He might have a solid case for “actual malice” — that the statement was knowingly false and published with the intent to harm — particularly because the lightest bit of fact-checking by PolitiFact earned the DCCC a “pants on fire” label on a similar subsequent statement:

As our Ohio colleagues point out, the allegation that Adelson allowed prostitution at the Macau comes from a fired employee. The DCCC takes that claim and says money from prostitution was included in Adelson’s campaign contributions to GOP congressional incumbents — including Duffy.

There’s no evidence that Duffy received contributions from Adelson, and he has no control over contributions to groups that support him.

“The claim that Adelson’s donations to these other groups amount to ‘Chinese prostitution money’  is dubious enough that inserting the word ‘allegedly’ can’t save it,” PolitiFact Ohio wrote in its assessment.

That holds no matter what name is inserted into the cut-and-paste news release.

You can repeat a claim, but the smell of smoke remains the same. Pants on Fire.

At the very least, Adelson could cause some serious headaches for the DCCC. But would he really want to go through with the suit and open himself up to a discovery process by a group that has its claws out for him?

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Obey Retirement Puts Another Democratic Seat at Risk

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

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Next Up: Reality-Show Politicians

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

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