How to get ahead….There’s an interesting story that’s generating a little bit of discussion in Washington but doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent elsewhere. Here’s the nub of it:
Freshman Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) made phone calls to at least two North Carolina College Republicans asking them to change their votes in the recent acrimonious College Republican national election, and the young people McHenry contacted said they felt pressured by the calls.
One operative said that McHenry was a “crucial part” of winning candidate Paul Gourley’s campaign.
I think it’s telling that a sitting member of Congress would take time out to play goon in an internal election for an organization of college students; it is not the action of a politician, but of someone who is still thinking like a party operative, through and through. The College Republicans are legendarily the organization that gave starts to all the GOP’s most influential operatives, its smart kids from nowhere: Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Ralph Reed. The organization is a near-perfect farm team for operatives: It involves its members in constant internal elections (for state CR Treasurer, for delegate to the national CR convention, for national CR Chair) which makes perfect practice for the cut and thrust of for-real electioneering. But the College Republicans have rarely produced elective office holders, at least until now.
McHenry is perhaps the most prominent ex-CR who is now winning elections for himself, and not for other people, but there are others: conservative it-boy Jeff Johnson, running to be Minnesota’s Attorney General, touts his CR credentials, as does the group’s former national chair, 31-year old Bill Spadea, who’s challenging Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) for his Congressional seat. Like Haley Barbour, the former RNC director who became Mississippi’s governor, or Tom Cole, the conservative pollster turned Oklahoma congressman, or Ralph Reed, now running to be Georgia’s lieutenant governor, these candidates have run largely not on their record of public service, but on their record of service to different aspects of the Republican party.
These are only a few data points, but it looks to me like it may be an emerging pattern of ascent, something like the traditional European parties of the left, where you got to be the guy running for office in your forties by spending your twenties and your thirties working as a party employee, staffing district offices, running local elections. For at least a few Republicans, the model of how to get ahead now seems similar. This seems to me to be something reasonably new, something I can’t remember happening much in the last couple of decades, but perhaps readers with longer and sharper memories can help.