Why Do GOP Mega-Donors Have Real Leverage Over Republicans in Congress?

Several GOP Congressman have publicly commented in recent days that they must pass the tax bill ‘or my donors have told me to never call again.”

But there is a strong whiff of B.S. in all this; or at least something is seriously off. In today’s extremely polarized left-right climate, the GOP congress should have all the leverage over their donors.

Think about it from a classic leverage analysis perspective. The person with leverage is the one who has the freedom of movement and an alternative; the person without is the one that is locked in to their current plan of action, with no better alternative.

If you are a traditional GOP Mega-donor – the type who has donated big dollars annually since Karl Rove called you in 2000 – where is your supposed massive leverage in pushing this terrible tax bill? For your political support, you only have three real options: switch to the Democrats, keep supporting your GOP establishment guy, or support his primary challenger.

Obviously, if tax cuts, or huge corporate cuts for your company, are your big endgame, you’re not going to support the Democrats. From a leverage standpoint, the GOP establishment congressman should be able to clearly state to their donors: “clearly, anything we do in power – even just being in power without accomplishing anything – would be better than the Democrats.”

Likewise, staying home, in an environment as pro-Democrat as 2017’s elections last week, is basically the same as switching to Democratic support.

The normal alternative would be the classic primary leverage play – “pass this tax bill or I’ll back your Republican challenger.” But there, Steve Bannon and the populist faction are disrupting or eliminating that leverage. For example, would you, as a normal GOP mega-donor, like to have your name attached to donating to many-times-accused child predator Roy Moore? Or perhaps the incompetent convicted felon Michael Grimm in New York?

Unless you want to go out and find your own primarily challenger who is both not establishment and not populist, which is a hopeless task in the current state of the GOP – that leverage doesn’t really exist. Just ask GOP Mega-Donors in Alabama – many tried to back Mo Brooks against Luther Strange in order to box out Roy Moore, and look how that turned out.

So, going back to the original premise, why, exactly, are GOP Congressman so apt to pass a bill that is both economically and politically suicidal? Unlike in 2006-2008, when the Republicans were able to recover in time for 2010 and their re-write of the maps helped them hold the House and stave off many proposed Democratic governing changes, the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections will determine what the political maps look like for a decade. And it is a decade where demographic change, combined with Democratic control, could actually build the first multi-decade Progressive coalition since FDR.

So, what gives? The “my donor is bullying me” argument can’t be the only answer. What else lies beneath the surface?

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