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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Money Talks: Politico Makes the Case For Barbour ’12

I don’t know what Jonathan Chait (who has undertaken what he calls the Boss Hogg Oppo Research Project) will do with today’s big sloppy wet kiss of an article about Haley Barbour in today’s Politico, penned by Jim VandeHei, Andy Barr and Kenneth Vogel. Personally, the adoring prose about Barbour’s ability to shake down corporations for campaign dollars made me alternatively chuckle and shudder. Check out this passage:

Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.
It’s not just because he controls the RGA kitty but, rather, because he has close relationships with everyone who matters in national GOP politics — operatives like Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and other top Republicans running or raising cash for a network of outside political groups. Together, these groups are essential to Republican hopes of regaining power because Democrats are cleaning their clocks through more traditional fundraising efforts.
The political class, in particular, is consumed with Barbour’s behind-the-scenes endeavors — this week, with the $1 million he got from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Yet the reality is that Barbour has been uniquely adept at leveraging concerns about President Barack Obama into huge contributions from many others. Bob Perry, the Texas businessman who funded the Swift boat attacks in the 2004 campaigns, has given more than twice as much as News Corp…..
“He’s clearly the top political strategist and political operative of his generation,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former RNC chief of staff. “He is without peer when he is raising money.”

Barbour’s Mammon-power is so awesome, in this account, that it’s almost inevitable he will run for president in 2012, his fame spread across the land by the likely harvest of GOP gubernatorial wins in November, fueled by the RGA. On that note, I was particularly amused by the testimony to Barbour’s greatness offered by hapless Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams, saddled with a disaster of a gubernatorial nominee and a right-wing third party revolt. He sure does need a heapin’ helping of Haley’s money.
The article does include what’s known in the trade as a “to be sure” graph, briefly acknowledging the counter-argument to the writers’ hypothesis before going on to brush it aside:

[T]he obstacles to a Barbour candidacy are substantial. A portly Southern conservative who represented tobacco firms and made millions building a lobbying firm isn’t the ideal profile for a Republican nominee in this or any political environment. In recent polls, Barbour is stuck in low single digits, way behind Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

Instead of meditating on those rather formidable problems, the Politicos return to still more admiring details about Barbour’s rules-bending fundraising techniques.
Now I used to look at the prospect of a politician like Haley Barbour gaining real political power as follows: “Well, could be worse. Yes, he’s venal and mean-spirited, but at least he’s smart. How bad could it be?”
Then Dick Cheney became vice president, and the limits of brainpower became rather obvious.
If, as appears likely, Barbour does move towards a serious presidential run, his background will offer an extraordinary opportunity for dumpster-diving. It’s not just the ethics stuff, either, or Barbour’s devotion to the interests of the very rich. Long before he moved to Washington and became a mover-and-shaker, Barbour was the leader of the right wing of the Mississippi Republican Party. That requires some serious wingnuttery, and as Chait observes, a long paper-trail of associations that will not look good in the twenty-first century.
I realize that the Republican field for 2012 is not terribly impressive, and that many GOPers long for a candidate who is both a hard-core conservative and a demonstrated party loyalist. But it may take even more money than Haley Barbour can raise to make Americans want this man to become president.

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