February 21, 2013

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Rachel Maddow's summary here of the deep, wide divide between the Tea Party groups and the so-called "mainstream" Republican party is interesting, but what's more interesting is how the tea party groups themselves are imploding.

First, there was the FreedomWorks meltdown and split with Dick Armey, which has worked itself up to a silly crescendo with the tale of the Hillary Clinton sex-with-a-panda video. Then, there was yesterday's mess with the Tea Party Patriots and their depiction of Karl Rove as a Nazi.

Now we have news of some housecleaning over at Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed groups pushing their corporate agenda of privatizing everything and killing government services with an axe and a hatchet. It seems they've turned the hatchet on themselves.

AFP president Tim Phillips wouldn’t comment on specific personnel moves, though he generally cast the cuts to his group, which now has about 190 employees, as an anticipated back-end result of a major election-year ramp up.

“The vast majority of it reflects a field effort that increased dramatically in late 2011 and 2012, and then it comes down to a more long-term sustainable size,” Phillips said. “Washington is an artificial hothouse as far as how folks move and how organizations change. A year or two years is an eternity working for the same organization in Washington D.C.”

But the departure of AFP’s chief operating officer Tracy Henke, which occurred around the time of Charles Koch’s holiday party criticism of AFP, was acrimonious, according to sources.

Henke and other departing AFP staffers signed nondisclosure agreements, and she did not respond to requests for comment, but she appears to have completely left the Koch network of groups.

That’s in contrast to other top AFP officials who recently left the group to join or start other new groups regarded as part of the Koch family, including Cobb’s Association for American Innovation and Phil Kerpen’s American Commitment.

The moves fit a pattern the Koch operation has pioneered of creating — and channeling millions of dollars to — political groups since it began increasing its political involvement.

According to Tracy Henke's LinkedIn bio, she's now with H&H Advisors, a political consulting firm. That's a polite and corporate way of saying she's out on her own, and it doesn't seem like a very amiable split. Henke is a veteran of the George W. Bush administration who worked for John Ashcroft and as Kit Bond's policy advisor. She also has ties to the Abramoff scandal. It could be that Henke's most serious sin was her work lobbying on behalf of the Rockefeller family foundation in favor of the CLEAR Act in 2009. How could the Kochs possibly have someone who acted as a paid shill for climate change and carbon tax proponents, after all?

Do you think she was let go because she was too moderate? After all, American Commitment, Phil Kerpen's new, fully Koch-funded venture, is hardcore right-wing with an extra strong dose of hot love for coal, oil and gas while denying climate change and hating unions. The one thing it seems to be missing is the usual hard core right wing war on women aspects, but the Kochs fund Concerned Women for America to cover themselves on that front.

According to Politico, there is the possibility that the Kochs are going to retreat from campaign politics and stick to policy-building via think tanks like Cato, Heritage, Franklin Center and others:

If they continue an expansion into electoral politics that helped spawn the tea party and push the GOP to the right, they could find themselves on a collision course with Karl Rove, who has pledged to raise big money to boost more centrist or “electable” GOP candidates. But if they begin steering cash away from ads and political organizing and back toward the free-market libertarian ideological and policy spheres, that could diminish their role at the ballot box.

Early indications suggest that they’ll continue playing in politics but will tweak their approach to reflect 2012 lessons.

There's no way the Kochs are retreating from electoral politics. All of their moves indicate a round of "creative destruction" and reorganization toward redoubling their efforts. American Commitment is only one of their new projects. There is the John Hancock Committee for the States, currently overseen by Eric O'Keefe but with assistance from the Ryun brothers of American Majority fame. The most recent Donors' Trust reports show large sums of money going into that operation, alongside another called Empower Texans. Generation Opportunity, referred to in the Politico article, is another front group for the Kochs aimed at young voters, with leadership apparently connected back to the tobacco lawsuits in the 90s.

Meanwhile, over at FreedomWorks, there's no doubt about their direction. It's not toward the center. It's farther right --so far right, we'll start thinking of Karl Rove as the party moderate.

The only soul-searching going on with Republicans, whether of the corporate type like Rove or of the super-corporate type like Americans for Prosperity, is how far right they think they can go.

Rachel Maddow is a great commentator and host, but she is a bit too glib about what's going on right now with the right wing. There's a lot of sound and fury, but it's just cover for the alignments they're making for 2014. Stay on guard.

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