Steve LaTourette used to be a congressman from Ohio who was closely aligned with Speaker John Boehner. Now he runs a Super PAC called “Defending Main Street” that tries to serve the Chamber of Commerce’s interests against the nihilists in the Tea Party who don’t even want to maintain our roads and bridges. As part of that gig, he writes articles (see, e.g., Politico). Despite taking money from people to do something that he can’t actually do (beat back the nut-jobs) he has decided to divide the GOP into two factions, one of which he disapprovingly labels “the grifters.”

Historically, grifters have taken many shapes. They were the snake-oil salesmen who rolled into town promising a magical, cure-all elixir at a price. The grifter was long gone by the time people discovered the magical elixir was no more magical than water. They were the sideshow con men offering fantastic prizes in games that were rigged so that no one could actually win them. They were the Ponzi scheme operators who got rich promising fantastically high investment returns but returning nothing for those sorry investors at the bottom of the pyramid.

Over the last few years we have seen the rise of a new grifter—the political grifter. And the most important battle being waged today isn’t the one about which party controls the House or the Senate, it’s about who controls the Republican Party: the grifting wing or the governing wing.

Today’s political grifters are a lot like the grifters of old—lining their pockets with the hard-earned money of working men and women be promising things in return that they know they can’t deliver.

There are distinctions between the swindlers in the Republican Party, that is true. There’s a difference between the paranoid ramblings of Michele Bachmann, Steve King, and Louie Gohmert and the fundamentalist stylings of real thieves like K Street Project organizer Rick Santorum and U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce Freedom Support Award winner Sam Brownback. The first group acts crazy and gets a bunch of small donations. The latter group acts like pious little brats while they’re lining their pockets with massive corporate donations, if not outright bribes. But, it’s okay, because they’re more religious than you are.

They’re all grifters.

Government spending is where they seem to differ, with the first group looking to cash in by not spending federal cash and the latter group looking to direct that cash into private sector entities that reward them with big donations and lucrative second careers. But the record shows, both under Reagan and under the latter Bush, that the GOP deficit spends like mad when they have the power to control where that spending goes. Will the next time be any different?

Not if Steve LaTourette and his benefactors have anything to say about it.

And, yet, the traditional Republican type of grift, where you decry federal spending until the moment you actually control it, is vastly preferable to the new kind of grift which is based on paranoia and a more virulent kind of racism.

I’d tell you to pick your poison, but you don’t get to decide.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at