Does GOP Establishment Senator John Cornyn, who is facing down a surprise primary challenge from Congressman Steve Stockman to thunderous applause from the MSM and Conservatism Inc., have a Southern Avenger problem?
“The Southern Avenger” was the stage name of former talk show host and conservative polemicist Jack Hunter, who was in the process of mutating into a Beltway operative working for Libertarianism Inc. Senator Rand Paul when he was outed for his Politically Incorrect past by the neoconservative webzine Washington Free Beacon.
Let me be clear: I don’t think Hunter should have been purged for his (former) Political Incorrectness. I think Hunter should have stood his ground and Paul should have backed him up, just as I think Rand’s father Ron Paul should have stood his ground over the somewhat similar point-and-splutter faux scandal (there was nothing in either case that had not long been on the public record) over his paleolibertarian Ron Paul newsletters. Political Correctness is the mortal enemy of any sort of rational thought on the National Question and America’s post-1965 immigration disaster.
Oh—maybe that’s the idea?
But Hunter and Paul caved and groveled anyway, just as Ron Paul did before him.
The moral of this story: Conservatism Inc. takes promising activists and redirects them into dead ends. Next case: Brendan Steinhauser, Cornyn’s campaign manager. He was a Tea Party organizer and a former campus radical conservative.
In college, Steinhauser was a chapter leader of Young Conservatives of Texas—the same group that recently hosted a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” before pressure from the state Republican Party forced them to back down. In 2004, he (literally) wrote the book on using controversial tactics to build conservatism on campuses: The Conservative Revolution: How to Win the Battle for College Campuses. The book heavily promotes the “Affirmative Action bake sale,” a onetime staple of conservative campus activism which involves charging different races different prices for baked goods. Steinhauser even wrote an article for David Horowitz’ FrontPagMag.com: Two, Three, Many Bake Sales, (September 28, 2003).
And Steinhauser was also explicitly on the side of secure borders during the Bush Administration. In 2006 he condemned “illegal aliens” who wanted “citizens’ rights” and urged his blog readers to tell Senators “to take a stand against illegal immigration. Support Rep. Sensenbrenner's House bill to protect our borders from the invasion.” He said of news about illegals lobbying for privileges, “just when you thought the illegal immigration problem couldn’t get any worse.” In August 2006, he supported Victor Davis Hanson’s case for border security during a debate with libertarians. In 2008, he co-authored a book called Who Is the Real Barack Obama? which included a chapter sharply critical of Barack Obama’s record on “immigration and culture.”
Steinhauser really arrived in the conservative movement when he became the director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks. He became one of the rising stars of the “Tea Party” and perhaps its single most prominent organizer, making appearances on the likes of The Colbert Report and featured as one of Time Magazine’s “Forty under 40.” Notably, he said his heroes and inspirations were William F. Buckley and Rules for Radicals author Saul Alinsky. As one might expect from such a combination, the result was tactical ingenuity mixed with orthodox Beltway Right politics.
The problem: FreedomWorks and other Beltway Right groups are either useless or actually counterproductive on immigration. Until recently, FreedomWorks’s chairman was Dick Armey, who bragged about how he tried to keep Tom Tancredo off the stage at Tea Party rallies. It is how headed by Matt Kibbe, who is more cautious than Armey. However, when Kibbe was interviewed about Rand Paul’s headfake towards amnesty this past year, he said Paul’s proposal is in the “framework of our principals. [sic]” [Tea Partiers Stand by Rand Paul Despite Immigration Conversion, by Shushannah Walshe, ABCNEWS, March 21, 2013]
So it is not surprising that after joining FreedomWorks, Steinhauser started shifting on immigration, calling for Republicans to be “proactive in terms of reforming the system.” By 2013, while it was still permissible to say the President is “behaving like a tyrant” and should “resign,” he was questioning whether anyone could define “amnesty.” After all, is “requiring people to pay a fine, pay back taxes, and pass a criminal background check amnesty?” (Hint: Yes.) He also creates a false choice between “amnesty” and “mass deportation.”
While it’s unfair to call Steinhauser a supporter of Open Borders, he apparently no longer sees stopping mass immigration as a primary issue. He has followed the Jack Hunter pattern of retreating to the “safe” territory of economic wonkery.
Unfortunately, the Democrats recognize mass immigration’s importance, and they see it as the key to a blue Texas and making conservatives irrelevant.
So what about Steve Stockman? He’s certainly an American original, so wild and crazy that the POLITICO’s Christopher Hooks was surprisingly reluctant to quite write him off in a recent major piece:
Just to be clear: Nobody in Texas thinks Stockman has a snowball’s chance of winning against Cornyn, and they’re probably right. [But] whatever Stockman’s up to, a look back at his political career makes one thing clear: You don’t want to run in a Republican primary against Steve Stockman, even if the outcome is predetermined. Running against Steve Stockman is not fun. Steve Stockman doesn’t just burn bridges—he’ll burn your house down.
Steve Stockman Can't Lose, The political genius of the wackiest firebrand in Texas, By Christopher Hooks, December 20, 2013
Immigration patriots might see hope in Stockman’s challenge. An increasingly restive Tea Party is hungry for a reckoning and remembers the upset Ted Cruz victory. Speaker John Boehner didn’t help when he declared war on his own base.[ Boehner to outside groups: 'Are you kidding me?', NBC, December 12, 2013]
And Stockman is custom-made for smash mouth conservative politics, a strategic genius when it comes to baiting liberals and watching them fall for the trap every time. He invited gun crazy guitarist Ted Nugent to the State of the Union. When an Idaho rodeo clown was suspended for impersonating President Obama, Congressman Stockman told him to come to Texas. Stockman for Congress bumper stickers read “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” While the harpies at the Huffington Post are horrified, they cannot look away, and Stockman harvests media attention and donations from the shrieks of his enemies.
Of course, Stockman’s slash-and-burn tactics may not work on John Cornyn. After all, with Steinhauser at the helm, Cornyn has impeccable Tea Party credentials. Cornyn was also rated the second most conservative member of the Senate by the National Journal. He has the endorsement of leading Texas political figures. Even Rep. Louie Gohmert has been frightened into silence. Most importantly, Cornyn is signaling that he will vote against Paul Ryan’s vaunted bipartisan compromise, denying Stockman his preferred avenue of attack.
Stockman’s opening tactic of calling Cornyn a “liberal” has been met with scorn. [The 7 Derpiest Lines From Steve Stockman's First Fundraising Letter, By Josh Barro, Business Insider, December 10, 2013] Conservatism Inc. is already pushing back against Stockman, with National Review running interference with stories about supposed distrust of Stockman among grassroots conservatives, chiefly because of Stockman’s take-no-prisoners tactics. Tea-Party Trouble For Stockman | Grassroots Support Hasn’t Coalesced Around Senator Cornyn’s Primary Challenger. By Betsy Woodruff, NR, December 11, 2013]
Ironically, Stockman and Steinhauser have much in common besides representing the “Tea Party” – both are graduates of and listed as either faculty or former staff at the Leadership Institute, both are alumni of Young Conservatives of Texas (Stockman is a former state chair) and both used their post-collegiate careers to promote a confrontational style of campus politics.
It’s obvious that Stockman would prefer to run on conventional tax-and-spend conservative issues. But his only real choice is to show that the “Tea Party” is looking awfully similar to the impotent operations in the Beltway. Contra Steinhauser, who once said the Tea Party is “taking over” the GOP, it looks like the GOP might be absorbing the Tea Party.
Stockman has to define what exactly separates the outsiders from the corrupt Establishment. Actually, someone has already done it for him – Ann Coulter. In her critical speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013, Coulter in effect laid out precisely where Stockman needs to target his attack if he wants to win – mass immigration, the real issue which separates the pro-amnesty “Republican Establishment” from the conservative grassroots.
Here, Cornyn is vulnerable. He has only has a C+ rating from NumbersUsa in recent years, with a notably bad record in fighting asylum fraud, reducing chain migration, and “challeng[ing] the status quo.” Cornyn voted in favor of Chuck Schumer’s S. 744 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, far more important than his politic final vote against because it advanced this nation-busting Amnesty/ Immigration Surge plan that would permanently deliver Texas to the Democrats. Stockman can capitalize on the 77% of self-defined Tea Party supporters who oppose a “pathway to citizenship.” As it is, Cornyn is also only slightly viewed as favorable as opposed to unfavorable by Tea Partiers – and this is before Stockman has even begun his usual shock and awe tactics.
However, Stockman has to do something fast. The major conservative foundations he was counting on are already refusing to help the challenger. Despite widespread Main Stream Media coverage, one poll show he is down by 44 points.
With another Amnesty attempt in January likely, Stockman could seize on a salient issue and offer a contrast to the standard conservative rhetoric. If Stockman tapped into populist impulses on immigration, he could win over Democrats and independents in Texas’s semi-open primary. He could show that Conservatism Inc. is just another part of what Ann Coulter called the real “Republican Establishment.” And he might even create some political momentum – as opposed to just creating some headlines.
He can even use Brendan Steinhauser’s own words that America faces an “invasion.”
I frankly don’t know if Steve Stockman can seize this opportunity. But if he does, he could still give Conservatism Inc. a scare – and show them you don’t fight an invasion by giving tax cuts to the people who profit from it.
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] is a Beltway veteran and a refugee from Conservatism Inc.