Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The right's perpetual outrage machine, and how it works


Over the past few months, I've written a lot about the rise of a "perpetual outrage machine" on the right, a highly profitable mini-industry "that cannot ever accept compromise or agreement because compromise and agreement would destroy their business model." They exist to create expectations among conservatives that can never be met, then reap the financial benefits of the frustration that results.

A piece in today's New York Times explores how that machinery operates, and who benefits.

Take the Tea Party Patriots, which has helped to drive the efforts to unseat John Boehner as speaker and block Kevin McCarthy, and is now using its email list of contributors to gin up conservative anger against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Note that the villains whom they target are often not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They are usually fellow conservatives, apparently because these groups find the theme of internal betrayal to be particularly profitable.

As The Times reports:

"... campaign finance records show that while the (Tea Party Patriots) raised $14.4 million in the 2014 election cycle, only about 10 percent of that went to so-called independent expenditures to support conservative Republicans, with most of the rest going to pay staff members and consultants, including Ms. Martin, who records show was being paid $15,000 a month early last year. In the last election cycle, the organization spent four times as much on mailings, postage and email marketing as it did on these elections, the records show."

A similar group, the Tea Party Leadership Fund, also joined the effort to "oust the sellout Republican John Boehner," begging conservatives to donate to that worthy cause. “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness,” the group pleaded on its website.

But as the Times reports:

"... campaign finance records ... show that of the $6.7 million the Tea Party Leadership Fund has raised since 2013, only about $910,000 has been spent on conservative Republican candidates it supports — either in direct contributions or independent expenditures on the candidates’ behalf — as an alternative to Mr. Boehner and his supporters.

Almost all of the rest of the money it has raised since 2013 has been spent on consulting firms involved in helping collect the donations."

In short, it's a scam. And websites such as Breitbart and the Washington Examiner are part of it, receiving notice of new fundraising drives ahead of time from the Tea Party professionals so they can match content and help raise the level of "grassroots" discontent to a profitable roar.  Martin and others are treated as conservative grassroots spokesmen, appearing often on Fox News or other outlets to boost their credibility that they then monetize through fundraising appeals.

That "grassroots" description is a central element in the deception. These outfits are generally based not in Peoria or Woodstock, Ga., but in places such as Washington, Arlington, Alexandria or other D.C. suburbs, and they are run by longtime professional fundraisers whose only real interest is in the response rate their appeals generate. They have no term limits, they are answerable to no one, but they are very much part of the permanent Washington establishment that they pretend to despise. Their only real connection to the grassroots is through their extensive databases of suckers willing to be flimflammed.

And even though they have no real policy goals, they do wield real power. If and when Republican leaders decide they need to do something responsible regarding the debt ceiling, for example, they will do so knowing that they will have to brace themselves for another blast from the perpetual outrage industry, and that the outrage generated will soon be transformed into a new Mercedes for somebody, or maybe a downpayment on another Alexandria townhouse.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.