Preface. This is a book review and Kindle notes of Nelson’s “Shadow Network: Media, money and the secret hub of the Radical Right”. It tells the sad history of how Republicans got Trump elected and took over the House, and Senate and Supreme court as well. I don’t cover some of the most interesting parts of what happened in this book review such as how on earth the evangelists went from reviling Trump to voting for him since it would take too many pages to tell, but it’s a good story, buy the book.
Basically the willingness of fundamentalists, evangelists, and conservative Catholics to vote for Trump was due to being able to reshape the judiciary, roll back abortion rights, gay marriage, gun laws, environmental regulations; abolish federal agencies, assail IRS restrictions on churches’ right to operate as tax-free political platforms, allow gerrymandering and redistricting, and remove the system of checks and balances designed by the founders to guard against extremism. They were keen to slash food stamps, the department of education, department of Agriculture, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Health & Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, Center for Disease Control, State Department, and Environmental Protection Agency in exchange for a few crumbs of tax refunds, and the $2 trillion tax cut that mainly went to the top 1% was designed to cause higher deficits making it easier to cut the social safety net programs.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report
Nelson, A. 2019. Shadow Network: Media, money and the secret hub of the Radical Right. Bloomsbury publishing.
Republican data mining
In 2009 the Koch brothers gave $2.5 million to the Themis Trust voter database using a company called i360, which networked the Koch organizations, Council for National Policy, and dozens of affiliated organizations. The target audiences were concentrated in sparsely populated states between the coasts where their votes could tip the Senate Republican. It was known that people were more likely to respond to digital prompts to act or vote when combined with sustained interactions with members of their social circles. The i360 data tracked voters’ marital status, interest in weight loss, cholesterol levels, preference for internet ads and outdoor ads, hearing difficulty, home equity, household income, and a category called “Bible” so that canvassers would have an excellent idea of who would answer and offered them a tailored script.
The digital strategy was integrated into its messaging through extremist radio and TV stations, with no equivalent at all on the Democratic side.
In 2012 the group United in Purpose (UIP) obtained leaked data on 191 million registered voters including names, contact information, and voting records. Then another online breach produced 18 million individuals with data including religious views, hobbies of hunting, a “bible lifestyle” and more. This data was made available to church pastors who wanted to know what percent of their congregation was registered to vote. Those that weren’t were called on by other members who asked them to register and reminded them to show up at the polls.
The UP app assigned points for sympathies from homeschooling to an affinity for NASCAR. Any score over 600 indicated a religious, conservative person. These people were then run against the voter registration database, and non-voters especially singled out to target. Five million unregistered conservative voters of the 25 million known conservatives were found this way, and UIP and partners went door to door to register them. Two-thirds of them lived in the south and Midwest, with a median age of around 60 and mainly white. Nearly 90% attend a Protestant church and have a biblical view (versus just 1% of the rest of the U.S.) and 90% are married.
In 2015 Ted Cruz developed a sophisticated political app with a database from voter files, the NRA, consumer sources, and Cambridge Analytics full of thousands of data points about each person. When approached by phone or door-to-door canvassers, the message was crafted depending on each person. If they were in the NRA and neurotic then a pitch emphasizing the menace of home invaders and a firearm was used, or if they held more traditional values then given heart-warming messages about hunting as treasured family time. When users downloaded it, the app asked for access to the phone’s entire directory of contacts. Those who were already Cruz supporters were then asked to reach out to contacts on this list, since they were likely potential supporters. By February of 2016, 300,000 potential supporters were matched with already active supporters. This data was supplemented with political surveys about themselves, their acquaintances, and data culled from their activities on the phone. The app was gamified and awarded points for actions such as sharing contacts and making phone calls that led to badges ranging from “bald Eagle” to “U.S. Constitution” and rewards of bumper stickers, t-shirts, and tickets to opening-night screens of Star Wars.
Meanwhile the RNC and Koch operations had made huge advances in data collection to add to their i360 database that they sold to Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, the NRA, and others. At this point a pool of 38 million born-again Christians who hadn’t voted in the previous two presidential elections were identified, despite 26 million of whom were already registered to vote. These targeted voters received almost 1 billion digital contacts via social media, emails and more. Conservative radio and TV stations got 99% of fundamentalist conservatives to believe that the mainstream media reporting on the election was unfair and biased.
On top of that, the NRA had launched a project called Trigger the Vote based on their secret database of gun owners assembled from state and local lists of gun permits and purchasing lists from gun shows and magazines. They tracked tens of millions of gun owners, most of them without their knowledge. Many of the non-voters within the NRA weren’t evangelists or cared about same-sex marriage, so the NRA database offered yet another avenue to getting out the Republican vote.
Both the NRA and i360 databases were augmented with Cambridge Analytica data.
In contrast, the MiniVAN app democratic volunteers in Texas, New York and California used had voting history, address, phone number, sometimes party registration, and the last time they voted. New information was noted on paper forms passed on to be digitally recorded. Lower-level candidates couldn’t afford to use this app. Other apps didn’t coordinate, such as Voter Circle, Tuesday Company, Team, Polis and Hootsuite. None could compete with Republican apps, and didn’t have access to Cambridge Analytica data. Nor did Democrats have a vast network of churches, radio, and TV stations to reach voters like the Republicans.
This culminated in a state-of-the-art app using a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who registered to vote. The app was augmented and by grassroots organizers from the NRA, Tea Party, tens of thousands of fundamentalist pastors, right-wing radio and TV stations, and social media.
Three days before the Iowa caucuses, the Ted Cruz app asked users to send out 230, 000 invitations, and share get-out-the-vote messages on Facebook and Twitter. In the final 24 hours the app served out over 850,000 requests to the 11,000 supporters online. The Family Research Council also had an app that they urged their users to support Ted Cruz. Since evangelicals made up two-thirds of the Iowa Republican caucuses, Cruz won.
Republicans also learned a vital lesson Democrats apparently had missed: the most effective way to reach a voter was through a printed—not online—guide, delivered by hand, preferably by a member of the community. Over 112,000 churches, a third of all the churches and other groups distributed more than six million voter guides in 12 swing states to get out the vote. This resulted in a record-breaking vote in Republican primaries from 1.4 million new voters registered since 2012.
Trump used a very simple app called the uCampaign based on the British Brexit Vote Leave app. The fundamentalists, NRA, and Americans for Prosperity also used uCampaign to get out the vote. Like the Cruz app, user’s phone directories were mined. After a download, the app sent pre-scripted messages to the contact list, which is very powerful, family, coworkers, and friends got the texts. It could match the address books to voter data file and send specific messages to those in other swing states. Over 150,000 Trump supporters downloaded the app and messages were sent to three million contacts.
And there are too many more Republican apps to list for state and local campaigns.
Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign was making all kinds of mistakes (see “Shattered” Inside Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign for details). A critical mistake was to not emphasize the votes of the undecideds and understand why they felt undecided, and all the registered voters who stayed home, while Trump got more voters to turn out.
Council for National Policy (CNP).
Nelson writes: “Through my research, I discovered the rapidly evolving ties connecting the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives. Many of their connections were made through a secretive organization called the Council for National Policy, which, as one member has said, brings together the “donors and the doers.” The CNP was founded in 1981 by a small group of archconservatives who realized that the tides of history had turned against them. They represented an American past dominated by white Protestant male property owners. They dreamed of restoring a 19th century patriarchy that limited the civil rights of women, minorities, immigrants, and workers, with no income tax to vex the rich or social safety net to aid the poor.
Now they faced a future in which minorities, women, gays, and atheists were gaining in number, rights, and political influence. If the country abided by a clear-cut democratic process, these constituencies, leaning Democratic, would consolidate their power based on majority rule. So the CNP decided to change the rules. This task would require developing a long-range strategy to target critical districts and activate previously unengaged voting blocs. But, as author David Daley has pointed out, the conservatives faced a deadline: once Democratic-leaning youth and minorities reached a decisive majority—which could be as early as 2031—there might be no turning back. The CNP spent decades building a framework to advance its agenda. One pillar has been its ability to master the basic rules of media and write new ones.
The CNP set its sights on the Republican Party, conducting a decades-long crusade to promote right-wing extremists and drive moderates out of office.”
Groups run by CNP members and their favored candidates benefit from a subsidized, turnkey digital package. Their coordinated apps collaborate across platforms and weave seemingly independent groups into tightly networked operations. These measures played a significant role in the 2016 surprise and continue to affect the electoral landscape today. The CNP’s preferred Republican candidate that year was Senator Ted Cruz, but when Donald Trump won the nomination, the movement turned on a dime, delivering its national network of media and manpower to carry his message, in return for his promise to advance its policy objectives. The impact of this network was borne out again in key races in the 2018 midterm elections, and can be anticipated for 2020.
Digital tools are unlikely to be effective if they are not rooted in social relationships. The movement has benefited from the gradual decline of mainline Protestant denominations and the rapid growth of the evangelical population over the past half century. Pastors have been wooed, pressured, and sometimes bullied to adopt increasingly political stands.
Family Research Council (FRC)
Many pastors continued to be uncomfortable with preaching politics from the pulpit, and the Family Research Council offered them a menu of arguments and workarounds. One video, narrated by Tony Perkins, listed religious figures who challenged authority, including Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist, demanding, “Were these men of God throughout history being too political?” FRC voter guides scrupulously avoided endorsing candidates in a literal fashion; they simply rated candidates according to their criteria, which led to an inescapable conclusion in favor of Republicans.
The FRC also produced compelling antiabortion videos to show in the church. They even offered a menu of ready-made sermons, including PowerPoint presentations written by Perkins and his partners for download and delivery from the pulpit.
The Family Research Council sponsored regional briefings with names like “Keep God in Texas.” In 2003 Watchmen on the Wall hosted its first national conference, which became an annual event. Pastors and their wives enjoyed a heavily subsidized three-day junket in Washington at the swanky Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. There they received FRC policy briefings, training sessions, and a “Spiritual Heritage Tour” of the U.S. Capitol. Then they were dispatched to Capitol Hill to carry the FRC message to their congressmen, whose office addresses were helpfully listed in the conference program. The materials also included painstaking guidelines for the legal boundaries for church politicking, and tips for setting up a “Culture Impact Team” in the home church. The orientation materials included a budget—suggesting that pastors should contribute 1% of their church’s undesignated receipts to the Family Research Council.
The pastors’ training sessions instructed them in methods not only for getting their congregants to the polls but also for extending their influence to family and friends and recruiting their followers to run for political office. Any churchgoer who was misguided enough to support a Democrat was pounded with messaging on the twin virtues of “sanctity of life” (antiabortion) and “sanctity of marriage” (anti-same-sex marriage). The FRC website added a downloadable “Election Prayer Guide” asking worshippers to “pray that America’s Christians will all register to vote” and cast their votes based on candidates’ “biblical values,” in order to elect “godly men and women as leaders who fear the Lord and honor Him.
The iVoter guides (https://ivoterguide.com/ from iVoteValues.org of the FRC & https://erlc.com/ of the
Southern Baptists) defined the issues, and their wording influenced the reactions. At the top of their list they placed appointing conservative [or “originalist”] judges and banning same-sex marriage. Environmental issues were not worthy of mention.
But by making pastors and churches their vehicles of distribution, the iVoter guides gave their recommendations the imprimatur of spiritual leaders—perhaps even an air of divine authority.
The FRC website had a national pastors network that grew from a base of 1,800 pastors to 75,000. Many were located in critical swing states, including Wisconsin (with 891 members), Michigan (1,778), Pennsylvania (2,464), and Florida (7,372). In a tight race, a cohort of pastors who influenced as few as fifty votes apiece could swing an election.
Extremist Radio & TV network
I found that as local and regional newspapers collapsed over the early 2000s, media owned by CNP members rushed to fill the vacuum. They developed a sophisticated strategy, starting with local radio, an old-fashioned but powerful medium that had been written off too soon by the CNP’s opposition.
Three key players dominate this landscape: Salem Media Group, Bott Radio Network, and the American Family Radio networks. Over the years they have connected their holdings to a cohort of pastors, politicians, and tycoons, creating an armada of radio stations and news outlets loyal to the CNP’s political agenda, and selling millions of Americans on its harsh combination of plutocracy and theocracy.
American Family Radio preaches the dangers of modern science and “moral decay”: “The complete absence of transitional fossils disprove evolution,” it tells listeners, and reports that “God agrees … that homosexuality should be against the law.” Because these stations’ audiences have lost or abandoned professional news outlets—and because their interests had been ignored by major national media—they are more vulnerable than ever. Over time, the media empire has expanded its reach into Fox News operations and grown to include fundamentalist television broadcasting, digital platforms, book publishing, and feature-film production. The “wallpaper effect” of wraparound media can have a powerful impact. Abraham Hamilton III, host of American Family Radio’s Hamilton Corner, described the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas as “Satan’s work,” immune to legislation. The Democrats, he complained, were “exploiting” the victims by calling for hearings on gun control. This charge was repeated, often in the same language, by other CNP-affiliated political and media figures across platforms, including the Daily Signal, the Hillsdale Collegian, and Fox News’ Todd Starnes Show.8 The cumulative effect is the creation of a parallel universe of information.
Of Nebraska’s 220 radio stations, at least 50 are religious, and many belong to members of the CNP. By comparison, the state has only eleven NPR stations. Crossing the Great Plains, a driver can go for miles without a public radio signal, but he’ll never be far from fundamentalist broadcasting—or messaging inspired by the CNP. Media played a critical role in the CNP agenda. It was well and good for Weyrich, Viguerie, and Blackwell to recruit millions of evangelical voters. But they needed a way to reach them that complemented their pastors’ sermons, not encroached on them.
Salem found a new way to monetize religion. Other radio outlets depended on advertising for 95% of their revenue, subject to the state of the economy. Less than half of Salem’s revenue came from traditional advertising; most of it came from selling blocks of time to scores of religious organizations that solicited contributions from the listenership. Over time, the definition of “religious” customers evolved to encompass partisan organizations tied to the Council for National Policy.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA, pronounced “D-shay”), was promoted by Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch and his family had extensive involvement in the nutritional supplements industry, which is based in Hatch’s home state of Utah. DSHEA prevented the FDA from regulating harmful or fraudulent supplements before they hit the market. The Los Angeles Times concluded, “The harvest [of DSHEA] has been a public health disaster.” It also created an advertising revenue stream for online and broadcast outlets of various persuasions. American Family Radio run ads for vitamins and medical and dietary supplements, many of them directed at the elderly.
In 2005 journalist Adam Piore published a detailed history of Salem’s strategy called “A Higher Frequency” in Mother Jones magazine. Piore reported that between 1998 and 2004, Atsinger, Epperson, and their company offered $423,000 in federal campaign contributions, 96 percent of it to Republicans. This rendered them the sixth largest donor in the industry.30 In 2000 Atsinger, Epperson, and a colleague donated $780,000 toward a California state ballot initiative to oppose gay marriage.
Evangelicals tended to distrust psychology, but Fundamentalist psycologist, James Dobson, who hosted a radio program called Focus on the Family, embraced the field as his calling. Like many right-wing spokesmen, he embraced corporal punishment to discipline children using a switch or a paddle to deliver spanking of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely.” Dobson took similarly harsh stands against homosexuality, abortion, and pornography, clinging to positions that were increasingly discredited by the medical establishment. He claimed that “no credible scientific research has substantiated the claim that homosexuality is genetic or innate.” Instead, he held that it was usually the result of “a home where the mother is dominating, overprotective, and possessive while the father rejects or ridicules the child.” Dobson was no fan of feminism. “A good part of my professional life,” he noted, “has been devoted to trying to straighten out some of the feminist distortions about marriage and parenting and to address the relationships between men and our women in our society.
Dorothy Patterson—wife of the Conservative Resurgence leader Paige Patterson—told audiences that “A wife was created from the beginning to be a helper to her husband,” she told his listeners. “That functional role … is one of subjection, it is one of submission.
Radio offered an obvious advantage for the fundamentalist strategists. Over the postwar period, the American landscape was covered by an interstate highway system. Americans commuted in their cars, ate in their cars, courted in their cars—often with the radio on. Epperson and Atsinger systematically expanded the Salem network across the country, station by station.
But the Christian Science Monitor noted that while Pat Robertson’s broadcasts didn’t endorse specific candidates, they could (and did) “insinuate” endorsements on the air. Fundamentalist media was becoming a political force. The Monitor reported that Christian broadcasters ran around 1,300 radio stations in the United States (one out of every seven); a third of commercial publishing was evangelical, and that the outcome of the election “may ultimately depend on the impact of the so-called ‘electronic church,’ the far-reaching Christian broadcast networks.” Viguerie predicted that born-again evangelicals could become “the strongest force in American politics in the next few years.
The advent of cable television—combined with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine—represented a bonanza for the radical right. Many critics have focused on Fox News, launched in 1996, but the fundamentalist broadcasters benefited far earlier. Cable allowed them to both target and grow their audiences on a national level. The traditional networks employed huge teams of professional reporters, gatekeeping editors who checked facts, and vice presidents to enforce standards and practices, but the newly liberated cable broadcasters were unencumbered. Not only did they find ways to “insinuate” their endorsements of candidates, skirting the Johnson Amendment, they also launched an attack on professional news outlets.
“Pat Robertson’s longstanding talk show ‘The 700 Club’ … and others began to address what was happening in the news from a biblical perspective. They claimed they were providing viewers with ‘real’ explanations that media and liberal politicians covered up. These shows also reinforced conservative talking points as objective facts.
Fundamentalist broadcasting, Bivens added, “authorizes a particular, often conspiratorial way of viewing the world.
The architects of the radical right studied the art of the “soft coup d’etat”—not just to take over the Republican Party but to weaken various public institutions that challenged their “biblical values.” These included public schools that taught evolution, universities that advanced climate science, and businesses that supported equal rights for the LGBT community. They also disapproved of the professional news media, which seemed to bear every trait they spurned: urban, liberal, and more secular by the minute. They resolved to break its hold on the nation’s psyche.
Print and broadcast journalism continued to grow in influence and revenue. Newspaper penetration peaked between roughly 1970 and 1990, when the ratio of circulation to American households approached one to one. Network news, launched in the 1940s, reached an apex around the same time, and the evening news expanded from fifteen minutes to half an hour in the early 1960s. By 1980, 75% of American households were tuned to network news programs over the dinner hour. But this news ecosystem, as some journalism professors called it, was already in trouble. Newspapers were advertising-rich, producing returns of 10 to 20%, outstripping most investments in the manufacturing sector.
But family-owned newspapers paid a price for their success; when the patriarchs died, their descendants faced inheritance taxes of up to 70%, prompting many to cash out by selling their papers to corporations. Family owners were answerable to their communities and their peers, but corporations responded to shareholders who were more interested in quarterly earnings than Pulitzer Prizes. By the early 2000s, the new news business was implementing massive cost-saving measures: firing thousands of reporters, slashing circulations in underserved communities with commercially unattractive demographics, and refusing to invest in the vital new technologies that were transforming the culture. The new corporate owners squeezed every last penny from their newspapers, in many cases using their revenues to float their debt.
The result was devastating. Local voices were silenced, local populations abandoned. Newspaper ownership was increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. By 1990 just 14 companies controlled half of the 1,600 daily papers, and the concentration of ownership would increase.
Newspapers were losing ground to television, but network news divisions were also troubled. Over the late twentieth century networks were acquired by increasingly diversified corporations. CBS’s Viacom, NBC’s General Electric, and ABC’s Disney saw no need to subsidize news divisions, directing them to turn a profit like other divisions. Television news reporting slid into softer stories, shorter soundbites, and more reporting tied to entertainment and human interest. Over the next few decades, the management closed both international and domestic bureaus and laid off legions of reporters. Cable and public broadcasting filled some of the information gaps, but cable channels tended to emphasize opinion, debate, and sensationalism over traditional reporting and cultivated like-minded niche audiences. Public television was worthy but chronically underfunded.
The rest of the country’s newspaper culture suffered a colony collapse. One of the most significant casualties was statehouse reporting, the traditional purview of midsize newspapers in Middle America. Pew Research reported that between 2003 and 2014, the number of full-time statehouse reporters dropped 35%. The press corps in many statehouses dwindled, allowing state lawmakers to go about rewriting laws with less scrutiny.
All of this must have been music to the ears of the Council for National Policy.
Wildmon’s American Family Radio network, for example, produced segments with titles like “Infanticide Adopted by Democrats” and “Homosexuality is the Dividing Line between Light and Darkness.” One considered the question of how Christians should respond to a Muslim call to prayer, and answered, “They should take the call to prayer as a call to arms, to go to war in the Spirit against the demon-god Allah and the spiritual deception of Islam.
The Salem Radio Network was especially aggressive in acquiring new stations. Atsinger and Epperson developed a successful strategy of purchasing leveraged stations in urban markets. But they ran into an obstacle with the Federal Communications Commission, which prohibited a broadcaster from owning too many stations in one market. Epperson and Atsinger—by now members of the CNP board of governors— joined other broadcasters to lobby against the regulations; Salem contributed $74,000 to key legislators. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was written by industry lobbyists, promoted by Newt Gingrich, and signed into law by Bill Clinton. It eased the ownership regulations, to the benefit of Salem and other large companies. Salem went on an acquisition binge and created a system of station “clusters” to cut costs.
Salem’s “Christian journalism” was a new genre, unhampered by professional practices of multi-sourced reporting, fact-checking, and corrections. This was not news about Christianity, it was current events filtered through a highly partisan fundamentalist lens.
“Christian radio” had become the third-most-popular format in the United States, following country music and talk.
Eventually the Salem, Bott, and American Family Radio empires extended to at least 46 states. (As of January 2019, they owned stations in every state except Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska.) Their programming, including political content produced by CNP members, was utilized by other radio networks, including the Christian Satellite Network and Family Life Radio.
ABC, NBC, and CBS began to dump their radio stations, especially in small and midsize markets, and their news programs disappeared. The Great American News Desert grew drier by the year.
In 2008 revenues of the Associated Press fell 65%. It was a cooperative financed by member newspapers, broadcasters, and other outlets to support reporting including breaking news, investigative journalism, and foreign news beyond the resources of individual resources. Local news across the nation was gathered. After their decline, national news tilted to the coasts, and Fox, Sinclair, fundamentalist and other right-wing radio and TV took over local audiences.
National Public Radio (NPR)
National Public Radio, founded in 1970, did much to fill in the gap. Serving more than a thousand public radio stations, NPR offered traditional journalism and newscasts that presented multiple perspectives on public issues. Listeners could turn to NPR for detailed, thoughtful interviews with leaders from the leading political parties. Nonetheless, many conservatives in Middle America distrusted NPR as a smugly liberal voice with little interest in their issues, a maddening focus on identity politics, and a propensity for promoting the Democrats’ agenda. NPR tilted urban and coastal for obvious reasons. Its stations, its listeners—and its listener contributions—were concentrated in urban areas, suburbs, and college towns. NPR’s weekly listenership would reach 28.5 million by 2017—but that was still less than 10% of the national population.
Public broadcasting was founded with federal support, but the ongoing assault by Republican administrations whittled that funding down to almost nothing over the years. NPR responded by basing its budgets on listener contributions. But that meant that urban NPR stations—especially major stations in New York, Washington, and San Francisco—had outsize budgets and programming capacity. Stations in conservative, rural areas—the news deserts that needed them most—got by on a fraction of the funding, with part-time employees and spotty local coverage. Many public radio stations are low-budget operations based on college campuses that broadcast from translator stations whose signals vanish a few miles out of town. Those who can’t afford to pay for all of the syndicated news and information programs often substitute light musical offerings.
Oklahoma, for example, has six NPR stations, mostly in cities and college towns, while Bott and American Family Radio have a combined twenty stations blanketing the state. And radio matters: it remains an important part of daily life for millions of Americans, whether in the home, the workplace, or the car.
CNP strategists showed an astute grasp of electoral politics, finding hidden pockets of evangelical voters and identifying the issues that could drive them to the polls. They displayed a special talent for pinpointing the districts and swing states that could win them critical victories. The intricate mechanics of the Electoral College and redistricting presented a narrow window to circumvent the popular vote, and they seized the opportunity. The CNP and its allies spent years building party machines at a state level. The Republican control of statehouses supported their gerrymandering efforts, and powerful donors helped them tackle labor unions in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other former Democratic strongholds.
The National Rifle Association, a former gentlemen’s marksmanship club has been weaponized for political purpose.
The movement has also appropriated a vocabulary that it redeploys with Orwellian flair. “Family” is a code word for homophobic, and “defense of marriage” means prohibition of same-sex unions. “Fairness” and “justice” mean lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations. “Values” means conservative evangelical ideology. “Right to work” means depriving unions of the benefits of collective bargaining. The movement’s brand of “religious freedom” often disparages other beliefs, and would allow fundamentalist churches to support political campaigns while retaining their tax-exempt status. And in the lexicon of Betsy DeVos, crown princess of the movement, “educational reform” means redirecting public school funding to religious schools, charter schools, and homeschooling. All of these euphemisms promote policies that victimize low-income and minority populations.
The figures who would create the Council for National Policy had a fierce allegiance to the white Protestant culture of the past, and presumed it would prevail forever. But the shifting electorate challenged that notion. As the power of the federal government expanded, its courts and agencies reflected national trends and imposed change on regions that had long lived as semiautonomous enclaves. In the late 1960s these tensions came to a head in a bedrock of American Protestantism: the Southern Baptist Convention. This conflict was an essential prologue to the story of the Council for National Policy. It was a key proving ground for some of the council’s founders; it would shape the group’s core and inform its tactics over the next half century.
The counterculture called the 1960s the “Age of Aquarius,” but Southern fundamentalists feared the decade as the eve of the apocalypse. They were rattled by the disturbing images the network news broadcasts brought into their living rooms. The year of reckoning was 1967. Southern society was based on segregation, but in June the Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage, and that October the court installed its first African American justice. Southerners were steeped in military tradition, but that month they watched almost 100,000 protesters march on the Pentagon. The South was still the land of church socials and sock hops, but that year Hair opened off Broadway, celebrating LSD and nudity onstage. Even the Bible was under scrutiny, as a new generation of theologians reviewed the scientific record and suggested that the Good Book was a profound work of literature, not a chronicle of historical fact. The conservative wing of the Southern Baptist Convention was profoundly shaken.
Southern Baptists were heavily concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy. As of 1980 there were more than 2.6 million Southern Baptists in Texas, almost a sixth of the state’s population. Southern Baptists represented over a quarter of all Alabamans, but they were scarce in New England. There were affiliated churches in 41 states as of 2019, but the denomination remains a predominantly southern institution.
One of its tenets was the believers’ right to conduct certain religious practices in the public square. For generations Southern Baptists and other Christians had taken it for granted that public institutions should double as religious venues. Public school days and sports events began with Christian devotions. High school football teams joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to pray for victory in the locker room, and county employees installed Christmas crèches on the courthouse lawn. These practices went unquestioned, and for generations few religious minorities or public atheists were around to object. For many communities in Middle America, Protestantism was the organizing principle for society, its various denominations serving as silent markers for tribes, class, and ethnicity. Churches were where housewives displayed their finery and teenagers courted under the watchful eyes of adults. Congregations served as nonstate social agencies, helping the needy and lending a hand to members in trouble. As long as communities were uniformly Christian and the nation’s values were shaped by their ethos, these phenomena were an accepted way of life.
But as America changed, the courts changed with it. They began to respond to the growing population of atheists and adherents of minority religions, who argued that state institutions should not be used to promote one religion over other beliefs. In 1962 the Supreme Court ended public school prayer. The following year it ended devotional Bible study in public schools. The fundamentalists were outraged.
Southerners resented the federal courts’ intrusion into their local affairs. In the same way antebellum Southern Baptists refused to be governed by their northern counterparts, Southerners rejected the imposition of national norms on their society.
Questioning the literal truth of the Bible could open the door to teaching evolution, environmentalism, and cultural relativism.
Some of the early political tactics included reserving blocks of rooms in conference hotels to enfranchise sympathizers, building communication networks, enlisting the media in disinformation campaigns, and spying on enemies, stratagems some saw as “going for the jugular.” Similar tactics would be deployed against moderate Republican congressmen in the years to come.
Social issues were key to organizing the Southern Baptist messengers, but the fundamentalist leaders were equally determined to expand their role in the public sphere. At the core of their political mission was the demand for “religious freedom” to enhance their political influence, using the church as a tax-exempt power base.
Their next step was to extend this strategy from church to state, a plan rooted in the concept of theocracy: the belief that government should be conducted through divine guidance, by officials who are chosen by God. The fundamentalists believed that this concept was written into the country’s founding principles, but this was not true: The Founding Fathers … stipulated that no religious test would be allowed for federal office holders. The First Amendment proclaimed: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Weyrich cofounded three institutions that became crucial building blocks of the radical right (and, eventually, of the Council for National Policy). One was the Heritage Foundation, intended as a counterweight to Brookings and other liberal think tanks, with major funding from beer scion Joseph Coors and Mellon heir Richard Scaife. Weyrich became its first president. Weyrich also cofounded the Republican Study Committee (RSC) to counter the Democratic Study Group, founded in 1959. The RSC would advance the interests of the conservative wing of the Republican Party in Congress, to the detriment of party moderates. Finally, Weyrich founded an influential Republican lunch club on Capitol Hill, with the help of two youngsters named George Will and Trent Lott. The Weyrich Lunch would become a Washington institution
Weyrich cofounded the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, as a way for the Republican minority to gain the upper hand. Republican state legislators and their spouses were invited to junkets at luxury hotels and resorts, organized and financed by hundreds of lobbyists and corporations. There the lawmakers studied “model” legislation, drafted by the corporations they purported to regulate. The bills were often introduced in states with favorable conditions, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. There they were validated in state courts, then leveraged to other states, bringing the advantage of a legal precedent. Extractive industries, Big Pharma, tobacco companies, and others flocked to ALEC conferences, paid their dues, and emerged with their reward. (It would take the Democrats four decades to launch the State Innovation Exchange as a tactical response.)
Weyrich and his allies knew that the Democrats enjoyed a mounting demographic advantage. The coming generations of voters, newly enfranchised minorities, and energized women all leaned Democratic. Much of the national news media also skewed liberal, especially in the era of Watergate and the Vietnam War.
The New South offered Republicans the potential for a new well of untapped voters, and Weyrich embarked on a search for the partners who could turn his dreams of a conservative coalition into a reality. The resurgent Southern Baptists were a logical starting point.
At a mass rally held by the Moral Majority Weyrich suggested to Mr. Reagan that because it was a bipartisan [event] it would be in his best interest, since we could not and would not endorse him as a body, if his opening comment were “I know this is nonpartisan so you can’t endorse me. But I want you to know—I endorse you and what you’re doing.” Reagan delivered his lines to perfection, and the masses leaped to their feet. The throng included men who would guide the movement for decades to come. Mike Huckabee, Robison’s assistant, was in charge of logistics. Meeting Reagan for the first time showed the 24-year-old Arkansan how religion and media could be channeled into political power. “No one had ever given so much attention to, or paid respect for the evangelicals,” Huckabee told the Washington Times. “It was magic, and [the evangelicals were] a major force in Reagan winning.
“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich told his audience. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down. In other words, suppressing opposition voters was as critical as engaging supporters.
Carter had infuriated the fundamentalists by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights, as well as allowing the IRS to conduct its ongoing audits of segregated institutions. The fundamentalists might do better cutting a deal with a questionable Reagan, they reasoned, than relying on a righteous Carter.
The pastors asked Paul Weyrich how they could leverage the rally into a political movement, given their limitations. Weyrich understood their concerns. “You don’t think your congregations will tolerate your involvement in public policy,” he told them. “Amen—that’s right,” they answered. Many churchgoers believed the church should attend to spiritual life, and render politics “unto Caesar.” There was a lot at stake: evangelism had become big business, and millions of dollars hung in the balance
The group commissioned Tarrance to conduct a poll asking their congregations first whether they would support their pastors’ active involvement in politics, and second, whether they would help pay for it—without cutting back on their usual tithing. The result was affirmative on both counts.
Bill Moyers, a journalist and former Southern Baptist pastor, reported, “In Dallas, the religious right and the political right formally wed … By the mid-1980s, Southern Baptist annual conventions began to look like precinct meetings of the Republican Party.
The harvest of votes was potentially massive. Falwell had noted that only 55% of evangelicals were registered to vote, compared to the national average of 72%. His movement set up tables in church lobbies and parking lots with the mantra, “Number one, get people saved. Number two, get them baptized. Number three, get them registered to vote.”
Surveys show that from 1980 to 1984, the percentage of Southern Baptist clergymen who described themselves as Republican rose from 29 to 66%, while those identifying as Democrats fell from 41 to 25%. Many of their congregants followed.
There was a basic philosophical difference, Pressler wrote, between fundamentalists and their political adversaries; the fundamentalists “believe in the sinfulness of each person … the consistent liberal, on the other hand, believes in the basic goodness of human beings.
The leaders of the Conservative Resurgence refined their other policy priorities. They wanted to impose severe legal restraints on the right to abortion wherever possible, limiting it to cases in which the life of the mother was at stake. This reversed the more liberal position the Southern Baptists had adopted in 1971. They also sought to eliminate IRS restrictions on using their churches to pursue their political agenda while maintaining their tax-exempt status. All of these goals could be blocked by court rulings and federal regulations, so they focused on the mechanics of government: limiting the power of the federal government, strengthening state government, and installing sympathetic judges to the federal courts.
Gazing out at the Dallas rally, Weyrich beheld an army of Southern Baptists who could serve as foot soldiers and an electoral base to fulfill his political agenda. But the Southern Baptists—13.7 million of the U.S. population of 226 million—couldn’t do it alone. The previous year Weyrich told Jerry Falwell of his vision of tens of millions of evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, Mormons, and certain mainline Protestants, who put aside their religious divisions to form a massive voting bloc.
By 1980 Weyrich’s complex machine was under construction, with the Heritage Foundation to program policy, the Republican Study Committee to wrangle congressional votes, ALEC to draft state-level legislation, and the Moral Majority to mobilize the masses. Now the movement needed money. For this Weyrich looked to the business sector. He had already recruited Joseph Coors and Richard Scaife to back the Heritage Foundation,
The nation’s vast business community brimmed with magnates who chafed at corporate taxes, oil barons who resented environmental regulations, and entrepreneurs who wanted to pursue risky ventures without pesky investigations. These individuals sought to curtail the power of the federal government and reassign it to more easily managed statehouses. Weyrich’s political machine was an investment that promised massive returns
In the 1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that American organizations performed functions that were the purviews of the aristocracy, the church, and the state in European societies. He asked, “But what political power would ever be in a state to suffice for the innumerable multitude of small undertakings that American citizens execute every day with the aid of an association?
Paul Weyrich’s new movement needed associations too. If the Texas fundamentalists and their Washington allies were going to make national inroads, they had to appeal to non-fundamentalists in other regions of the country, based on a new network of seemingly secular organizations.
The creation of effective coalitions, he stated, “takes two things: It takes things to get real bad very quickly, and there has to be some political machinery there to take advantage of that opportunity.” The New Deal was the perfect example. Over the 1930s things got “real bad very quickly,” and FDR’s crack team of advisors assembled the political machinery to consolidate the Democrats’ advantage
The Democratic Party continued to promote a national civil rights agenda—and the southerners continued to resist. In the eyes of the fundamentalists, things got “real bad very quickly.” Tensions mounted, and civil rights protesters marched across southern cities, met by fire hoses and police dogs.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most extensive civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, barring discrimination in schools and the workplace. This energized the backlash in the South, spurring the Christian academy movement and driving a wedge through the Democrats’ Solid South.
Viguerie prepared to take on the Republican establishment. His list not only anchored an impressive fund-raising operation, it also offered a way to bypass the national news media. “We couldn’t get our candidates on the evening news or our issues talked about,” he stated. Direct mail allowed him to expand the influence of candidates who were otherwise written off.
They decided that the winner of an election is “determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective side.” Third, they declared that “the number and effectiveness of the activists and leaders … is determined by the political technology used by that side.
Phyllis Schlafly, a constitutional lawyer from St. Louis, used her legal training to restrict the rights of working women. A veteran of the John Birch Society and the Goldwater campaign, Schlafly organized a successful national movement to derail the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977. She sowed panic among her followers by warning, misleadingly, that the ERA would cost widows their Social Security benefits and deprive divorced mothers of custody of their children.
“When [Phyllis Schlafly] and I were involved in politics back in the fifties and sixties, the conservative movement rested on a two-legged stool,” he recalled. “The two-legged stool was national defense, which really meant anticommunism, and economic issues. We’d win 40, 45, sometimes 47% of the vote. Very seldom would we ever get 51%.” But under the leadership of Schlafly, Weyrich, and Falwell, “conservatives began to reach out and bring into the conservative movement social issues.
Blackwell was ever attentive to lessons from the left: “How you design a piece of political literature, how you raise funds, how you organize a precinct, how you attract a crowd to a political event, how you communicate to a mass audience online—those techniques can work for anybody,” he wrote. In the process, the Leadership Institute imbued generations of right-wing candidates and their campaign managers with a common ideology, vocabulary, and method.
Blackwell, Weyrich, and Viguerie were ready to consolidate their gains. On May 19, 1981, Viguerie gathered more than 50 conservatives at his handsome brick home in McLean, Virginia, to found the Council for National Policy.
The Johnson Amendment to the tax code became a plague to the fundamentalist movement. It limited tax-exempt status to groups whose activity “does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The Revenue Code further ruled that groups could engage in voter education so long as it was “conducted in a non-partisan manner”—but not if it favored one candidate over another. This wording applied to churches as well. Critics noted that Lyndon Johnson slipped his amendment into the bill without debate
Daily life in the United States has been dramatically shaped by the existence of 501(c)(3) status. It has been the hidden state subsidy for art museums and opera companies, whose donors can write off their contributions. It has allowed churches to amass vast real estate holdings and universities to build up huge endowments and fund critical research. The Council on Foreign Relations justified its 501(c)(3) status by serving as a leading think tank on foreign policy. As an educational institution, it offered a portfolio of publications, starting with its journal, Foreign Affairs, as well as numerous online resources and academic partnerships. Its membership was a matter of public record. Most of its frequent meetings were closed, but others were open to the press. The Council on Foreign Relations became a routine stop for every presidential candidate from a major party. The members’ politics ranged from arch-conservative to extremely liberal, making it a venue for spirited debate.
Soon after the Council for National Policy was founded in 1981, its leaders applied to the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)(3) status, arguing their group’s similarity to the Council on Foreign Relations. They pointed to Foreign Affairs, claiming that they would produce similar educational materials, and the IRS granted their request. The CNP’s 501(c)(3) status benefited the network’s financial strategy. But unlike the Council on Foreign Relations, the CNP and its partners did not promote bipartisan discussion or open-ended policy debates. They functioned to promote the right wing of the Republican Party, skirting the IRS restrictions against partisan campaigning with the airiest of pretenses.
White evangelicals had voted in equal numbers for Carter and Ford in 1976, but they voted two to one for Reagan, and the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years.
The fundamentalists had expected Reagan to show his gratitude by moving full steam ahead on their social issues, ending abortion and quashing IRS challenges to their tax-exempt status. Instead, the White House emphasized economic policy and put the fundamentalists’ issues on the back burner.
In Reagan’s second term, his administration handed the fundamentalists a gift that would galvanize their media and leverage it into an even more powerful political tool: its ruling on the Fairness Doctrine. The doctrine had been in effect since 1949, and required any radio or television broadcaster seeking a license to devote a certain amount of airtime to controversial matters of public interest and to offer opposing views on critical issues. The doctrine also dealt with two other contingencies. If a station aired personal attacks on an individual involved in public issues, it was obliged to notify the party in question and offer a chance to respond. If a station endorsed a candidate, it had to provide other qualified candidates the opportunity to respond over its airwaves.
In August 1987 the four FCC commissioners—all Reagan or Nixon appointees—abolished the doctrine unanimously. Critics argued that the Fairness Doctrine had stopped making sense when cable television burst upon the scene with the birth of CNN in 1980. Television and radio transmissions were no longer captive to “scarce frequencies.” Cable channels (which were not covered by the Fairness Doctrine) proliferated, representing diverse points of view.
These rallying cries to tribalism and paranoia, echoing across the South and the West, would cleave a rift in Americans’ political perceptions that persists to this day.
Right-wing anti-environmentalism to increase corporate profits
While the movement’s public platform preached a return to Judeo-Christian values and regressive social policies, the underlying economic issues were equally critical. Many of these concerned environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency had been founded in 1970 under the Nixon administration, in reaction to a run of national emergencies.
In Texas and Oklahoma, runoff from abandoned oil wells had been quietly poisoning farmland and drinking water for decades. In 1969 DuPont opened a chloroprene plant among the petrochemical facilities on an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana that would be dubbed the Chemical Corridor. A 2014 assessment by the EPA found that the five census tracts around the plant had the nation’s highest cancer risk in the country. But the extractive industries treated the Clean Air Act (1963), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the EPA (1970) as existential threats. It didn’t take an oracle to see that environmental regulations would take a bite out of oil, coal, and mining profits.
Opportunists swarmed the countryside, piercing the earth and throwing up shards of shale and toxic brine. When I was a teenager, oil companies operated rigs on the very grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. There was little talk of preserving the environment; indeed, theology was right on hand to justify the pillage. Nature existed to be conquered and exhausted. The Dominionists cited Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” The oil industry of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana was a natural habitat for Dominionist theology.
Confederate roots ran deep in the oil belt. After the war Confederate veterans poured into the underpopulated regions of Texas and Oklahoma, seeking a fresh start and imprinting the states with their politics and their culture. There was also an economic legacy. On a Facebook group called Sons of Confederate Veterans Oklahoma Division, a member offered his perspective on the roots of the conflict: “Y’all are partly right, but it was mostly about the Federal government’s overreach in the south, extra taxes and tariffs put on them. Sort of what’s been happening with all the socialist were voting for office today. You will not recognize it, you have been conditioned to accept it thru over 50 years of public school. Live free while you can.
The DeVos & Prince families’ influence
Richard DeVos was a long-standing member of the Council for National Policy, and the ruling patriarch of an economic and political dynasty. The DeVos and Prince families—united through the marriage of Richard’s son and Betsy Prince—built two vast fortunes through a range of unusual business practices. They have used their massive wealth to erode the state’s power and impose their rigid theology on society. The CNP was central to their mission, and they have served as a cornerstone for it.
In the 19th century the Dutch government decided to liberalize the laws concerning the state Dutch Reformed Church. A small group of conservative farmers resisted and immigrated to America, cleaving to their old ways through the Reformed Church in America. The “Seceders” represented only 2% of the Dutch population, but they made up almost 50% of the Dutch immigrants to America before 1850. In 1858 a third of the Dutch immigrants in Michigan decided that their American church had succumbed to “moral decay” and theological liberalism, and founded the Christian Reformed Church. They blamed the Enlightenment for “idoliz[ing] human reason at the expense of Bible-based faith” and set out to contest the government’s role in public education and labor relations. Education should be the purview of the family and the church, not the government, they argued, and trade unions and collective bargaining undermined divine authority.
Amway products had their fans, but some consumers complained they were overpriced, and disaffected dropouts called their sales force a “cult.” Nonetheless, Amway martialed a vast network of indoctrinated distributors and customers that could be mobilized for political as well as commercial purposes
The dynasty spent a king’s ransom on political operations. As fundamentalists they invested in campaigns against gay marriage and abortion rights. As businesspeople, they resented the federal government, especially its power to regulate business practices and carry out consumer protections. As donors, they contributed massive amounts to political campaigns, candidates, and organizations that advanced their agenda.
Betsy DeVos served as the family’s minister of public education—or rather, against public education. She had worked her way up the Republican Party ladder, primarily as a fund-raiser, to become a member of the Republican National Committee. On her home turf, she labored tirelessly to promote charter schools and school vouchers as ways to divert tax dollars from public schools to private religious schools. Though the Detroit public schools—troubled as they were—produced better test scores.
The Rust Belt states were some of the last holdouts from organized labor’s glory days. U.S. union membership peaked in 1954, when nearly 35% of all U.S. wage and salary workers were unionized. By 2014, union membership had fallen to just over 11%. There were many reasons for this decline, among them automation and manufacturers’ decisions to move factories overseas—as well as decades of Republican assaults on unions’ bargaining power.
Labor unions had been instrumental in achieving major reforms: abolishing child labor, advancing occupational safety, raising the standard of living. But they were not immune from corruption, and in some areas they inspired resentment by fostering a two-tier labor market that favored friends and family of members, and winning benefits denied to the self-employed and other workers.
Unions have been closely allied to the Democratic Party, and Republicans have responded by promoting so-called right-to-work legislation on a state level. These laws weaken unions by permitting workers to benefit from a union’s collective bargaining process without paying union dues. Workers have less incentive to join the union, and unions lose the funds and manpower they need to participate in the political arena.
Right-to-work laws reduce Democratic Presidential vote shares by 3.5 percentage points.
Although union membership in the private sector continued to decline, public sector unions grew rapidly, especially at the local level. In 2009 their membership overtook that of private sector unions for the first time. Police, firefighters, and teachers’ unions remained a potent political force. Betsy DeVos had already declared war on the teachers’ unions. The New Deal coalition was already weakened by decades of the Democrats’ dissension and neglect. The coup de grace required only money, media, and strategy. These the CNP had in ample supply.
In 1871 journalist William Conant Church came back from the front alarmed by the Union soldiers’ poor marksmanship; the records showed that a thousand rounds were fired for every Confederate hit. Church and his friend General George Wingate decided that the country needed an organization to improve the marksmanship of future soldiers. They launched it in New York City’s fire department headquarters at 155 Mercer Street (now a Dolce & Gabbana boutique), and named it the National Rifle Association. For its first century the NRA concentrated on hosting target practice at shooting ranges and promoting gun safety. These were useful lessons. The West was young, and settlers relied on guns to hunt game and kill the predators raiding their poultry and livestock.
Rifles and shotguns were standard items in the farmers’ toolkit, and lessons in firearm safety counted as a vital public service. The NRA worked closely with the National Guard and supported U.S. military training efforts in World War II. After the war, the NRA returned to educating hunters on safety and conservation measures.
But things changed. As the country urbanized, the rate of violent crime rose, more than doubling between 1960 and 1970. Congress responded by passing the Gun Control Act of 1968, which limited the sale of weapons to felons and minors, barred mail-order purchases, and required new firearms to bear a traceable serial number. The NRA’s vice president wrote in American Rifleman that while he saw parts of the bill as “unduly restrictive, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”6 The NRA and the nation were still on the same page.
On May 21, 1977, at the NRA’s annual meeting, there was dissension in the ranks, and it erupted, an event that came to be known as the Cincinnati Revolt. Harlon Carter took over and used his position to pioneer a new style of lobbying. He orchestrated national opposition to a 1975 bill that sought to restrict the purchase of handgun ammunition under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, generating more than 300,000 letters from gun owners to congressmen, some of which included petitions bearing thousands of signatures. The letters supporting the limits, in contrast, numbered 400.
Carter’s campaign was successful, and the limits on handgun ammunition were defeated. Congressmen took heed of the NRA’s new muscle; the NRA-ILA built out its mailing lists and began to deploy them on state and local campaigns as well as national ones.
Under their leadership, NRA membership mushroomed from 980,000 in 1977 to 1,900,000 in 1981. Their assets grew in step with the membership, since fees and contributions provided the lion’s share of the organization’s revenues. The NRA was exempt from federal income tax as a 501(c)(4) organization, defined as one operating “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare … the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.
One watershed was the battle over California’s Proposition 15 in 1982. This measure called for limiting handgun ownership through a number of measures, including a registration process and a ban on mail-order purchases.
The NRA swung into action, with a budget of over $5 million. It martialed an estimated 30,000 volunteers to distribute flyers and make phone calls, and convinced some 250,000 Californians to register to vote, just to oppose the proposition. The NRA crushed the measure by a two-to-one vote.
The Democrats had been counting on votes from African Africans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics, but their turnout was lower than expected, while the NRA constituency’s turnout was higher. Tom Bradley, the popular African American Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, lost his bid to become governor by less than 100,000 votes—a fraction of the NRA’s hidden pool of 250,000 new voters.
Inspired by the high turnout of NRA members the new model became: identify an invisible, disengaged group of potential voters. Find a hot-button issue to activate them. Keep them riled up with targeted media and direct mail. Facilitate their interactions in gathering places they frequent, to reinforce their commitment with groupthink. Follow up with onsite voter registration and transportation to the polls on Election Day. This tactic would be adopted by various CNP partners and reinforced with digital tools, to serve as a model for elections to come.
In 1991 the NRA elected Wayne LaPierre to the leadership position of executive vice president. LaPierre, a professional lobbyist, brought a new emphasis on advertising and marketing to the job. Membership, which was claimed to be 2.5 million when LaPierre came into office, rose to 3.4 million by 1994.
LaPierre faced his first major test shortly after. With Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, the anti-gun lobby moved swiftly to introduce the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named after James Brady, the White House press secretary who was gravely wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. The bill was signed into law in 1993, the first such legislation passed since 1968.
In 1994 the NRA drew up a list of 24 congressional supporters of the Brady Bill and went to work. On election night, 19 of the 24 went down in defeat, and the Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton blamed the NRA.
Challenging presidential candidate Al Gore’s calls for gun control after the Columbine massacre, Heston appeared at a 2000 rally, hoisting a rifle and shouting, “From my cold, dead hands!
Demographically, gun owners tended to be older white males in rural areas of the South, Midwest, and West, and were more than twice as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. Furthermore, white evangelicals were more likely than other religious groups to own a gun and to support the NRA. The opportunities for networking were obvious.
The primaries in Iowa, a fundamentalist-heavy state, offered a major opportunity, Silk reported: “The technique of the Robertson campaign was to make caucus attendance a church activity. Tables would be set up for congregants to sign on to caucus for Robertson, and when the day came they showed up en masse. Indeed, the strategy worked so well that it propelled Robertson to a second-place finish ahead not only of Kemp but also of Bush himself.
George W. Bush courts the evangelists
Bush’s Episcopalian background was a disadvantage, but he was coached on the art of fundamentalist fudging. He learned the language of the conversion experience, at least well enough to sow division. “Methodically,” Silk added, “[Bush’s] people had taken Bush to call on leading Southern pastors, whom the transplanted Yankee convinced that yes, he too was a Christian who had been born again. He was instructed Bush to “signal early, signal often” to the evangelical community. He noted that the national media was hostile to the fundamentalists, so relations were best established early in the campaign before the coverage intensified. He was given memos on fundamentalists on a state-by-state basis, naming the influential preachers, describing their doctrines, and rating their popularity. The strategy worked.
The evangelicals’ union equivalents in the Republican Party were gathering steam, at the same time the Democrats’ actual labor unions were going off the rails. Between 1980 and 1990, U.S. union membership dropped by almost a third, to only 16% of the workforce. Over the same period, the number of Americans identifying as “evangelical” and “born again” rose to about a third of the population
Once in office, Bush, like Reagan before him, appointed moderates to key positions and focused on economic and foreign policy. “We won three landslide presidential elections in the 1980s, but … we were still burdened by the dead wood of the business-as-usual Republican Party,” fumed the CNP’s master marketer. So they began to look outside the Republican establishment for new leaders and for a new vehicle to translate their anger and outrage into political action.
In 1996 the bipartisan Federal Election Commission filed a lawsuit against the Christian Coalition, charging the organization—whose membership had grown to 1.7 million—with acting illegally to advance Republican candidates, including CNP members Senator Jesse Helms and Oliver North. As a 501(c)(4) organization, the Christian Coalition was required to be nonpartisan, but the FEC found that over the 1990, 1992, and 1994 elections it had used voter guides, mailings, and telephone banks to campaign for conservative Republicans. The contributions that paid for these efforts should have been reported as campaign contributions.
The New York Times reported, “That same year, the suit said, the coalition coordinated with the National Republican Senatorial Committee to produce and distribute 5 million to 10 million voter guides to help Republican Senate candidates in seven states.” The coalition also worked in “coordination, cooperation and/or consultation” with the 1992 Bush campaign. Its activities included spending funds to identify and transport voters to the polls, and to produce and distribute 28 million voter guides. Oliver North’s unsuccessful 1994 bid for the Senate benefited from 1.7 million voter guides.
Their ensemble of single-issue organizations harmonized like a well-tuned choir. The CNP leadership set the agenda, the donors channeled the funding, the operatives coordinated the messaging, and the media partners broadcast it unquestioningly. Every element of the operation worked toward getting out specific votes in support of hand-picked candidates. They were relentless in helping their friends and punishing their enemies. There was little interest in engaging Democrats in constructive debate or reaching across the aisle. Theirs was a Manichean vision of good versus evil. They were the elect, chosen by God to set the nation on His path. Democrats were demonized.
A 1993 poll showed that only 12% of the voters and 22% of evangelicals considered abortion to be a key issue. Reed was particularly interested in broadening the movement’s appeal to conservative Catholics. The situation called for new tactics. If the electorate wasn’t sufficiently worried about their issues, the issues would need to be refined, reframed, and sold to their voters.
The party ranks still included moderates such as Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter and New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, both of whom had taken pro-choice positions.
In 1995 James Dobson threatened to bolt both the CNP and the Republican Party on the grounds of insubordination on both fronts. He arrived in Washington with a small entourage, including Ralph Reed and Betsy DeVos, to lecture Republican presidential hopeful Phil Gramm. They sternly informed Gramm that he needed to run on a “morality” platform, but Gramm balked at the idea. The following year, candidate Bob Dole proved equally uncooperative on the question of appointing antichoice judges to the Supreme Court. Dole committed a further offense by suggesting he would make a place in his cabinet for Colin Powell, a moderate Republican with a pro-choice stance.
Dobson and company made it clear that they would rather see the Republicans lose than win with a maverick, and punished Dole by withdrawing their support. In November Dole went down in defeat to Bill Clinton’s bid for a second term. One factor was the evangelical turnout, which dropped 6% from 1992 to 1996.
In February 1998, Dobson returned to the CNP fold with an appearance at its Phoenix meeting.
“Does the Republican Party want our votes—no strings attached—to court us every two years, then to say, ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you?’ ” he demanded. “If I go, I’ll take as many people with me as possible.” His audience understood that Dobson’s weekly radio audience numbered 28 million—when the combined audience for all three network news broadcasts had dropped to 32 million viewers.
The following month Dobson delivered his ultimatum to 25 House Republicans in the Capitol basement, threatening to pull his support from the party unless it backed his agenda. He detailed his demands in a letter to Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The list included defunding Planned Parenthood, eliminating “so-called safe-sex and condom distribution programs,” and cutting off support for the National Endowment for the Arts. It added supporting school choice and “a ban on partial-birth abortion, the defense of traditional marriage, and opposition to any legislation that would add ‘sexual orientation’ to any civil rights law, educational program, or any congressional appropriation.” The CNP would adhere to this menu with astonishing consistency over the next two decades.
The bullying tactics worked. “Keeping Dobson and other Christian-right leaders happy has become the central preoccupation of Republican lawmakers,” CNN reported. “In the House, the legislative agenda is crammed with ‘pro-family’ votes aimed at Dobson’s constituency. But people had to vote; without them, the movement was stalled.
The “Program” amounted to a virtual declaration of war on American culture and governance—shocking in its ruthlessness and antidemocratic spirit. Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity … We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs … Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.
The new movement advocated “intimidating people and institutions” such as Hollywood celebrities and university administrators: “We must be feared, so they will think twice opening their mouths. They must understand that there is some sort of cost in taking a ‘controversial’ stand.
The movement would stoke the flames of alienation: “It is a basic fact that an us-versus-them, insider-versus-outsider mentality is a very strong motivation in human life.” The movement would transform the political culture by laying siege to the popular culture through dedicated organizations. These new associations would watch movies together and “feel part of the group as we watch it.” They would engage in charitable activities, partly to create a positive public image and “partly to create an alternative to government solutions.” The groups “should provide everything that a person could want in terms of social interaction,” other than the office and the church, although some churches would be affiliates. It would include sports leagues to recruit people who were otherwise uninterested.
The essay echoed authoritarian philosophies, emphasizing groupthink to the detriment of independent inquiry and open debate. “The movement should imitate the communist distinction between party members and fellow travelers,” it continued. “There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium.” Effective television and movie propaganda would require creative talent and considerable capital, “but these hurdles must be overcome sooner or later.
The evidence suggested that they were losing ground on abortion and gay rights, but there were promising signs that they could make same-sex marriage their next hot-button issue.
Your constituency is the voters, especially the coalition which elected you. You can’t count on the news media to communicate your message to your constituency. You must develop ways to communicate with your coalition which avoid the filters of the media. Focus on your base. Write to them. Meet with them. Honor them. Show yourself to be proud of them. Support their activities. Show up at their events. Help other politicians and activists who share their priorities.
The Council for National Policy’s demographics problem continued. The bedrock of its support, the older white Protestant population, was aging. Younger, more racially diverse voters skewed liberal, especially on social issues, and the causes that mobilized fundamentalist voters didn’t play as well with the new generations. Young women who had come of age with abortion rights weren’t ready to surrender them—especially to a movement that maintained that life began with conception. Millennials had grown up around openly gay friends and relatives, and the sky hadn’t fallen—even when they enlisted, married, or had children.
The manifesto specified that none of these efforts would bear fruit if they didn’t address a vital demographic: “We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are educated outside of the indoctrinating environment of many public and private schools, universities, and of course, the popular culture. At this point in their lives, many of their ideas are still in the formative stage, the more so the younger they are … College students must be a key audience for our movement, since they are free of excessive time commitments and they find themselves in an environment that (theoretically) encourages activism and exposure to new ideas.
The movement, it argued, needed to establish “alternative fraternities” as well as study groups and book clubs that could “build each other up in every possible way: in terms of public speaking skills, debating skills, physical skills, intellect, manners, aesthetic sense. But the CNP’s most visible efforts were focused not on fraternities and book clubs but on cultivating entire colleges.
The CNP’s partner media platforms were as networked as its organizations. Hillsdale College enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Daily Caller, founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and CNP member Neil Patel, and seeded with $3 million from former CNP president Foster Friess. Described as the radical right’s answer to the Huffington Post, the Daily Caller claims more than 20 million unique readers a month on its home page, and millions more on its partner sites and social media. (As of 2019 its Facebook page has more than five million followers.) The Daily Caller creates and distributes its content through the Daily Caller News Foundation, or DCNF—another tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. The foundation shares content with over 250 publishers, and its website states that its content “is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience.
Falwell was an eager entrepreneur. In 1971 he founded a small Baptist college in Virginia as a subsidiary of his multimillion-dollar televangelism business. But his revenues stumbled in the 1980s with the fallout from the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart sex scandals, and his college suffered too. Rebranded as Liberty University in 1985, the school made a partial recovery, but it still labored under heavy debt. Liberty started to explore the economic potential of an online curriculum, propelled by the vision of Falwell’s son, Jerry Jr., a bearded version of his father. There were limits to that vision. One was a series of scandals involving a number of for-profit schools with online curricula, which were issuing worthless diplomas while skimming vast amounts of federal scholarship funds. (Liberty is officially “non-profit.”) In 1992 Congress responded by passing the 50% rule, requiring colleges to hold at least half of their courses on a physical campus to qualify for federal support. But in 2006 the Republican Congress quietly passed legislation removing those consumer protections, stealthily inserting eight lines into a vast budget bill.
This benefited a massive number of commercial educational institutions, including many fundamentalist colleges. Liberty University’s fortune was made; it quickly expanded to become the second-largest online college in the United States. As of 2015, its on-campus student body numbered around 15,500, while its online enrollment approached 95,000. The school, like many similar institutions, makes a special effort to recruit military veterans, who have access to additional government funding. By 2016 the university was pulling in more than $1 billion a year, most of it courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, and clearing a net income of $215 million; Falwell Jr.’s salary was set at almost $1 million a year. The university has dismissed faculty concerns and student complaints about the quality of online instruction.
The Council for National Policy has rich hunting grounds in America’s evangelical colleges, which number over a hundred.
The Leadership Institute plays an essential role in TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” a site that publishes photos and denunciations of professors. The accused’s offenses range from joking about Republicans to documenting gender bias in economics textbooks. (Politico recorded 226 “watch-listed” professors at 156 schools in 2018.) The site encouraged students to inform on their professors through the Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform project. Campus Reform works alongside TPUSA to equip and train conservative student activists across the country, through twelve regional field coordinators.
Another Turning Point USA initiative, the Campus Victory Project, consists of a plan to “commandeer the top office of Student Body President at each of the most recognizable and influential American Universities.” In 2017 the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer published the content of a brochure from the project, which outlined the stages of its campaign. “Once in control of student governments,” Mayer wrote, “Turning Point expects its allied campus leaders to follow a set political agenda. Among its planks are the defunding of progressive organizations on campus, the implementation of ‘free speech’ policies eliminating barriers to hate speech, and the blocking of all campus ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ movements. Turning Point’s agenda also calls for the student leaders it empowers to use student resources to host speakers and forums promoting ‘American Exceptionalism and Free Market ideals on campus.’
Charles and David Koch were unlikely allies for the fundamentalist right. Religion has played little part in their rhetoric; they preach the free market gospel. Fundamentalists should have been dismayed at the way the Kochs extended their free-wheeling notions to the private sphere. David Koch advocated civil liberties that the fundamentalists bitterly opposed, including same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Outlining his philosophy in a 2014 interview, he explained, “I’m basically a libertarian. And I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.
David decided to take things a step farther, with an attempt to disrupt the bipartisan status quo. In 1980 he ran as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for vice president, on a platform that can only be described as bizarre. It called for the elimination of all restrictions on immigration and the abolition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the repeal of all gun laws, opposition to all taxation, the abolition of the FBI and the CIA, and the repeal of Social Security. It added that no one, no matter how psychotic, should be involuntarily committed to an institution for care. The platform also called for the legalization of homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, and all forms of drug use.
The two brothers reluctantly turned back to the GOP. Like Richard Viguerie and Morton Blackwell, they were dismayed by centrist Republicans. Nixon had founded the Environmental Protection Agency, and moderate Republicans were willing to reach across the aisle to collaborate and compromise with Democrats on taxes and entitlement programs. But Reagan’s “Southern strategy” showed new potential to widen the country’s political divide, and Texas was a key component. It was no coincidence that Reagan’s alliance with the South was launched in Dallas.
Soros began his philanthropic career in 1979, and eventually he assigned more than $32 billion of his fortune to his philanthropic network, the Open Society Foundations (leaving him with over $8 billion). Unlike the Kochs, Soros launched his philanthropy with an international emphasis, and only added U.S. domestic projects after the end of the Cold War.
Three-quarters of the Democracy Alliance partners were coastal, concentrated in three areas: the Boston–New York–Washington corridor, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. In contrast, almost two-thirds of the Koch Seminar participants lived in the South and the Midwest. In electoral terms, this meant that the Democratic donors’ focused on zones that weighed heavily in the popular vote, while the Koch seminar donors were more likely to inhabit critical swing states that tilted the Electoral College, and sparsely populated states with disproportionate influence in the Senate. Both networks featured a preponderance of donors from the fields of finance, insurance, and real estate. But the Koch seminars were weighted toward the extractive industries and manufacturing, while the Democrats skewed toward the information industries, the legal profession, and entertainment.
The Koch network could, as the Skocpol study states, “nimbly form and revise overall strategies, while [the Democracy Alliance’s] rules have promoted scattering of resources and undercut possibilities for advancing any coherent strategy.
Logically, Democrats should have enjoyed a competitive advantage, given that wealthy liberals are more prevalent in the United States than wealthy conservatives. Nonetheless, their network proved less effective. The Koch seminars “have fueled a tightly integrated political machine” that moved national and state-level Republicans toward the ultra-free-market right. The Democracy Alliance, on the other hand, achieved “more limited results by channeling resources to large numbers of mostly nationally focused and professionally managed liberal advocacy and constituency groups.” These differences would have a dramatic impact on the battle royal to come.
Other American Christians agonized over the conflicts generated by the gaps between the world’s political realities and the ideals of their faith. What was a Christian position on the torture practiced by the U.S. government in the post-9/11 period in pursuit of combating terrorism? How could the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” be reconciled with capital punishment and the epidemic of gun violence? What would a humane refugee policy look like in a world beset by millions of suffering refugees? These matters were absent from the prayer menu for Watchmen on the Wall and the program for the Values Voter Summit. Children’s welfare was only mentioned from conception until birth. The Family Research Council held that fundamentalist Christians “are victims of religious discrimination … From the Senate chamber to a corner bakery, Christians with natural or biblical views of marriage and sexuality have a bullseye on their backs.” Their sense of victimization left little compassion for anyone else.
The Council for National Policy was still racing against time. As of the early 2000s, evangelical Christians remained the largest religious group in the United States, with about a quarter of the population, but their numbers were starting to drop. The Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, peaked in 2006 at sixteen million members, then went into a precipitous decline. At the same time, the percentage of atheists and unaffiliated Americans rose sharply; it was only a matter of time before the “unchurched” overtook the Southern Baptists.
The premise was that while elected officials may not like all nominees equally, they could agree on common standards of professionalism and impartiality. The ABA review began in 1953 at the request of Republican president Dwight Eisenhower, and every president from Eisenhower to Barack Obama participated in the process except George W. Bush. Conservatives claimed that the ABA ratings had a liberal bias, but the ratings did not adhere to party loyalty: for example, none of George H. W. Bush’s nominees received the ABA’s lowest rating, while four of Bill Clinton’s did.
Sekulow’s enterprises served him well. In 2017 the Guardian obtained tax documents revealing that Sekulow and his family had reaped more than $60 million since 2000 from the ACLJ and an affiliated charity, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism. Much of the money was extracted as donations from retirees on fixed incomes, susceptible to a finely tuned telemarketer script: “We wanted to make sure you were aware of the efforts to undermine our traditional Christian values” effected by Barack Obama, and so on. The bounty bought Sekulow a private jet, extensive properties, and his own law firm operating for the benefit of the fundamentalists.
He also became a CNP media star. His radio show Jay Sekulow Live! has been carried by more than 1,050 stations, including Salem Communications and the Bott network. Sekulow is telegenic, with expensive suits, a perpetual tan, and an authoritative baritone. He appears as a frequent guest on Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and his weekly program is carried on the fundamentalist Trinity Broadcasting Network, Daystar, and Sky Angel. Fox News and the three networks made him a regular commentator.
Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell took strong objection to her nomination. McConnell, a graduate of Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, turned to the National Rifle Association, run by CNP member Wayne LaPierre. He requested that the group publicly oppose Sotomayor and “score” the vote to activate its members. “The NRA had never scored a vote on a judicial nomination,” wrote Greenhouse. “Judge Sotomayor had no record on gun issues. But the organization obliged Senator McConnell and announced that it would score the Sotomayor vote. Republicans melted away. Only seven voted for confirmation. The scenario was repeated the following year for the nomination of Elena Kagan, who had no track record on gun cases because she had never been a judge.” The NRA took similar actions against other nominees, with mounting success. In 2016 the NRA pulled out all the stops to derail the confirmation of Obama nominee Merrick Garland to the seat left vacant by Scalia’s death, issuing an “instant and evidence-free denunciation,” Greenhouse wrote. The NRA mobilized its supporters to lobby Congress against Garland.
According to Adam Piore in Mother Jones, in 2005 Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, reported that one hundred million Americans tuned in to Christian stations at least once a month. This was four times the weekly audience of National Public Radio at the time.
Salem’s programming was now available to a third of the U.S. population, and its online publications had an audience of three million. Its news division website described it as “the only Christian-focused news organization with fully-equipped broadcast facilities at the U.S. House, Senate, and White House manned by full-time correspondents,” with news “specifically created for Christian-formatted radio stations.” This meant “news” based on “biblical values”—not fact-based, multi-sourced professional practice.
Citizens for community values, affiliated with the FRC and similar organizations registered nearly 55,000 new voters by hiring a firm to call every home in the state to identify 850,000 Bush supporters, and then call each of them the day before the election, encouraging them to vote. This organization placed nearly three million inserts into church bulletins the Sunday before the election. Bush won Ohio by 118,457 votes—with 50.8% of the vote. Switching fewer than 60,000 votes [in Ohio] would have given the national election to John Kerry.
Ralph Reed undertook the organization of evangelical activists on a national basis, collecting thousands of fundamentalist church directories across the country and submitting them to the Bush-Cheney campaign (over the objections of many pastors). Their listings were fed into phone banks and registration drives. The campaign sent the names of unregistered evangelicals back to their local volunteers, who would contact them and encourage them to register. A Bush campaign director estimated that this campaign yielded new voters “in the range of millions.
in the six years leading up to the 2004 elections, Salem Communications and its executives contributed $423,000 to federal candidates, 96% of it to Republicans, making it the sixth-largest donor in the industry.
“Evangelicals had constituted the same portion of the electorate as in 2000, about 25%, but had turned out in higher numbers than in any presidential election for which statistics are available. White evangelicals supplied two of every five Bush votes.
According to journalist Max Blumenthal, the members of the CNP were the “hidden hand” behind McCain’s choice of running mate, having withheld their support—and their fundamentalist base—until he accepted their candidate, fundamentalist Sarah Palin, over his first choice of moderate Joe Lieberman, a decision he later regretted.
Obama’s victory challenged the fundamentalists’ electoral strategy, and they were obliged to assess their weaknesses. Once again, they had to regroup.
In 1983 Weyrich had founded a weekly, by-invitation-only lunch near Capitol Hill. The lunches served as interim meetings for CNP activists to discuss their efforts to lobby for their causes and to purge moderate congressional Republicans, with the lobbying arms of the Family Research Council and the American Family Association as important sponsors.
The grand old man of the CNP spent his twilight years traveling to Moscow, building new alliances between his conservative constituency and the ruling class of the New Russia.