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Former Republican: How the GOP Turned Into a Racket Ripping Off Vulnerable Americans

How a party degenerated into a scam.

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As with many religions, political parties have a tendency to start as a movement, transform into a business, and finally degenerate into a racket designed to fleece the yokels. One organization which has gone out of its way to illustrate this evolution is the Republican Party. And it has done so with a national scope and fundraising apparatus that would have made Jimmy Swaggart or Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker mute with awe.

By "Republican Party" I mean both the formal party and its extended apparat: talk radio and the Fox News empire, pressure groups like the Family Research Council, allegedly "educational" 501(c)3 organizations like the Heritage Foundation, direct mail outfits descended from the original Richard Viguerie mother ship, polling firms like Rasmussen's, and the Tea Party itself (the latter nevertheless asserts its non-affiliation with the GOP despite its having sponsored the Florida Republican presidential candidates' debate in 2011).

True believers in this multi-faceted scam are usually careful to make a (false) distinction between the institutional GOP and the so-called conservative movement. The Republican Party and its grandees, according to this fable, are not "true conservatives." By 2008, the operatives of the racket were already saying this about George W. Bush, but that assessment required them to perform the mental gymnastics of forgetting that only a few years earlier, they were eager to nominate Dubbya to the next available vacancy in the Trinity.

Having abandoned the apostate Bush, the true believers were off on a quixotic hunt for the next messiah: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Hermann Cain, the resurrected Newt Gingrich. Each pasteboard messiah having eventually fallen to earth with a thump, the congregation settled for the colorless but ostensibly electable Mitt Romney (Romney may have been the purest true conservative in the operational sense, given his genius for separating rich donors from their money). That pragmatic decision came to naught in November 2012, but it wasn't long before the faithful, and all the movement's con artists who cling to the faithful like flees to a dog, were off on a pilgrimage to find the next conservative Wunderkind. Chris Christie, maybe? On second thought, perhaps he lacks the soothing, good-natured bonhomie of Dutch Reagan. Would it be Marco Rubio, evidently qualified to rebrand the party for a rising demographic because both his names end in vowels? Perhaps not. Or maybe even Ben Carson, who, like Herman Cain, has never been elected to public office, but who generates (also like Cain) the required evangelical fervor? The search continues for the anointed one, much to the amusement of satirists.

It was not always thus. Having decisively won the presidency in the 1988 presidential election -- even with a mediocre candidate -- for the third consecutive time, the GOP was probably at the height of its national potential. George H.W. Bush had taken California (the last time for a Republican presidential candidate) and several other states, such as Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey, that we can now almost always count in the Democratic column. Educated suburban voters, including the women among them, were trending Republican. Soothsayers were declaring the GOP as being on the threshold of political dominance with an " electoral lock."

It was not to be; ironically it was always triumphs that portended overreach. Perhaps this was because the zealous believers rushed with unseemly haste to build their New Jerusalem while average, sane Americans began to regret what their electoral decisions had wrought. In the 1990s, after winning Congress for the first time in 40 years, the GOP proceeded to shut down the government, impeach the chief executive over a bedroom farce, and perform amateur forensic tests to prove Vince Foster was murdered. Enjoying stratospheric approval ratings (ironically enough in the wake of a national tragedy resulting from his own failure to understand an intelligence briefing warning him of the impending tragedy) George W. Bush brought us bogus WMD, the invasion of Iraq, torture, and heck-of-a-job-Brownie. After re-taking the House in 2010, gonzo Republicans promptly marched the country into the first national credit downgrade in our history.