The National Journal has an interesting article about Allen West that I think reveals something important about today’s right wing. In particular, the article is about how West may actually be more powerful now than when he was in Congress. In fact, his PAC is raising more money after leaving office than the speaker of the House is currently.
West, like Sarah Palin, inspires the true believers. His caustic brand of Republicanism—he has said Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would be “very proud” of Democrats and that as many as 80 communists secretly lurk among the Democrats in Congress—turned him into a conservative icon. By November 2012, his campaign team says, it had more than 100,000 active donors who had contributed nearly $19 million. “It’s an unheard of sum,” says Brock McCleary, who was the deputy political director for the House Republicans’ campaign operations last year.
To put his haul in context, the only House members to raise more money than West last cycle were Speaker John Boehner and those running for president (Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas). West’s reelection campaign outraised that of Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, by more than $11 million.
West did it by investing heavily in direct-mail and e-mail solicitations that capitalized on his image as a tea-party rabble-rouser, a military veteran serving his nation, and, of course, a rare black Republican. His campaign spent more than $7.4 million on fundraising, much of it for direct-mail solicitations. West received so many contributions that he reported spending more than $200,000 in bank and credit-card fees just to process all the incoming money.The secret of Allen West’s success is that, despite appearances, he is more strategic than spontaneous. Every crazy comment he makes raises his profile and the amount of money in his coffers. Every joke is workshopped (at least in his own head) to best charm the press. Every attempt to shoot down a 2016 rumor is actually an effort to keep his name in the mix…
West’s mail operation continues to hum. It ensures that he, unlike so many of his former colleagues who depend on the largesse of the lobbying class, isn’t tethered to the whims of Washington elites. This large donor base gives West the freedom to speak his mind—demands it, even. It also, crucially, provides him the time to build his empire and to amass the money that will serve as his mortar.
In 2013, only Marco Rubio and Eric Cantor have built up bigger warchests in their leadership PAC — and he isn’t even in Congress anymore, for crying out loud. It’s clear that the way to loosen the pocketbooks of the Republican base is to throw rhetorical bombs. Intelligence and accuracy are clearly irrelevant. Call your Democratic colleagues communist and the money flows in. But it also highlights their problem. Such behavior may appeal to their base, but it scares off nearly everyone else. Allen West is on his way to making himself very wealthy by playing to the far right, but I suspect any influence he gains that way will only hurt the Republican party. And I’m okay with that.