Primary opponents: an empty threat?
Wed November 24, 2010 11:20 am

In a post yesterday, "New Pledges for Paxton," I addressed the news that several freshman members had decided to join the Resistance to Joe Straus:

"One of the things that has been going on is that certain consultants have encouraged their clients to pledge to Paxton. Is that really doing them any favors? At best, it’s a gamble that a hardcore conservative counterattack in 2013 will destabilize Straus, and conservatives will win a majority. If that doesn’t come to pass, the freshmen will have wasted their first two sessions in futile opposition."

A commenter who calls himself "dominoes falling" responded:

Paul, your analysis is off. If candidates are being advised by their consultants to pledge Paxton, it’s so they can avoid being one-term representatives, not so they can play a chess match for a “hardcore conservative counterattack” in 2013. You’re getting too smart for your own good. You think these guys worked this hard to win election to gamble like that?

I think you underestimate the reality that some of these guys, both current members and members-elect, will face a serious primary challenger if they go with Straus. You don’t have to see a speaker candidate as viable, now or in the future, to make the decision to support him. Better to sit on the back bench than be forced to take your ball and go home after two years. (And the voters WILL remember. Things have changed.) It’s the same phenomenon as when Craddick pushed too hard. You only have leverage over a member until you’re forcing him to do something for which the voters will bring him home. Then survival instinct kicks in and it’s every speaker for himself. “Plum” committee assignments don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’re facing retirement before you’ve moved in to your office.

What you also are missing in your cheerleading for Straus is that several members who are currenly pledged to him are going to have to face this life or death decision before the actual vote for speaker comes about. Just because they’re currently with Straus doesn’t mean their problems have gone away or won’t need to be addressed. There’s still a lot of time for members to be forced to succumb not to the persuasion of Paxton but to the will of their constituents. It’s a long shot, but this is not over. We were still asking “Who is Joe Straus?” this time two years ago. Now you think he’s invincible.

Too many insiders are still trying to view this race through the prism of an internal power struggle, and are underestimating the influence outside pressure can have even while decrying its existence.

* * * *

This is the argument of the Resistance: that it is safer to fight Straus in the streets of Paris than to sip wine with him in the sidewalk cafes and make yourself a target. Those who fail to join the Resistance will be singled out for retribution in the form of a primary opponents in 2012, recruited by the Resistance.

I don't buy this argument at all. If consultants are advising their clients to pledge against Straus so that they can avoid a serious primary challenge, they aren’t thinking very far ahead. It is just as likely, if not moreso, that their clients will get a primary challenge if they pledge for Paxton/Chisum/whoever. Freshmen who isolate themselves from the mainstream of the House are as vulnerable as baby birds in the nest. The speaker’s team will embrace their opponents. The lobby won’t support them, because it will be an affront to the speaker. The outside pressure groups will cheer them on but they Freshmen who join the Resistance will have to rely on outside groups for funding. The weakness of these groups is already manifest. They can raise hell, but can they raise money? Can Michael Quinn Sullivan raise $250,000 for a legislative race? Can he raise ten times that much for ten legislative races? I guarantee you Joe Straus can. All this bravado about primary opponents is just empty talk until the money is on the table. Members who align themselves against the speaker and the committee chairs do not have a bright future in the House.

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