There are plenty of ways to separate a sucker from his money. Most of them involve appeals to emotion. In politics, the most lucrative emotions are fear, frustration, and anger.
Authoring a confession for Politico, campaign finance lawyer Paul H. Jossey details how political action committees leveraged those emotions to fleece Tea Party activists for years. He writes:
What began as an organic, policy-driven grass-roots movement was drained of its vitality and resources by national political action committees that dunned the movement’s true believers endlessly for money to support its candidates and causes. The PACs used that money first to enrich themselves and their vendors and then deployed most of the rest to search for more “prospects.” In Tea Party world, that meant mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through “petitions”—which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause. While the solicitations continue, the audience has greatly diminished because of a lack of policy results and changing political winds.
Jossey’s account deserves your full attention. It illuminates not just how these groups bilk their marks, but how the scheme has affected the overall political discourse.
A provocative theory holds these groups intentionally back candidates that can’t win to assure fundraising flow. Some may genuinely believe they help (others obviously know they don’t). But it’s no secret that the day after Mitt Romney’s defeat was a huge fundraising day in the conservative world. And electoral success would undoubtedly affect business. Current affinity for Cruz and Trump is conditioned on them losing. Victory attenuates the need for the “action” these groups purport to catalyze. It also blunts the emotional appeals which kick-start contributions. That’s why one conciliatory note in the inauguration speech would start the emails flying about how the grass roots has been sold out and “we need your help to keep President Trump true to his word. Sign our petition!”
They sell you false promises, fantasies of victories that can never occur, banking on your anger after the inevitable disappointment. An example not specifically mentioned by Jossey was the effort to “defund Obamacare” through the House’s “power of the purse.” There was never any practical way to make that happen, and everyone involved in selling the idea knew it — including Senator Ted Cruz. But that was fine, because the point wasn’t to actually end Obamacare. The point was to build lists and raise money on the idea of ending Obamacare.
This is where our attention needs to be. This is the real establishment, not elected leaders in Washington, but a swirling flock of vultures that feed on the corpses of great expectation.