I call the attention of readers to Richard Viguerrie’s new book “Go Big” on marketing political propositions (A paperback copy of the book can be found here for $20).
Some of the book is specific to conservatives, but most is not. Most is appropriate advice for any third party. In barely 300 small pages, it treats strategic planning, marketing, and steps needed for a political faction to influence the future of the country. Viguerrie is 89 but is still vigorously intellectually active. You see here the distilled wisdom of 60 years in marketing political ideas, largely through direct mail.
Viguerrie notes that six decades ago, the Old Right, led by Senators such as Taft, Goldwater, Thurmond, and Tower, would show up for a vote, lose 2 -1, and disappear until the next vote. He quotes Morton Blackwell as saying that after he had been in DC for a year, he realized that conservative politicians did not meet every week, or even every year, to plot political strategy. No one was leading the conservative movement. Viguerrie and a group of politically active friends got together, he claims, and began providing the leadership that the conservative movement was not receiving from its elected politicians. They did not run for office themselves, at least most of them. They became the core of the New Right. Their weekly meetings and the consequences thereof led in 1981 to Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office as President.
Viguerrie emphasizes the importance of single-issue groups that largely share the use of mailing lists. He estimates that liberals currently have 20,000 or so of these, conservatives have 2,000, and does not mention libertarians or greens, who may have 20 or at perhaps 2 that support candidates of their inclinations. These groups create pools of donors, activists, and people prepared to run at least for local office.
However the single-issue groups on the whole work very well for the parties. McCarthy blackmailing the Chamber of Commerce would appear to be the single issue blackmailer being McCarthy.
Those single-issue groups prioritize their single issue over the long-term wellbeing of the party. They also militarize themselves in primaries to disallow anyone against their single issue from being the nominee regardless of the circumstances. The end result is our big tent politics that govern the constitution of the two main party coalitions have become much smaller tents, and to have a semblance of power you’re required to conform to the small tent or they’ll get someone else to replace you. Shining example of this in recent memory was the Chamber of Commerce were for the infrastructure bill and against the reconciliation bill in the last Congress. McCarthy effectively shut them out from having any influence over GOP decision-making until the Chamber came out against the infrastructure bill.