A new battle is raging in the conservative civil war over something that has long felt fundamental to organizing the GOP: the crazy right-wing email forward. But on Monday, it became clear that it's not just liberal kids who are frustrated by their elderly relatives contributions to their inboxes. So are the Republican National Committee's chief of staff, Mike Shields, and the editor of RedState, Erick Erickson.
Last week, Breitbart News' Michael Patrick Leahy declared, "RNC DECLARES WAR ON CONSERVATIVE GRASSROOTS." The alleged war declaration took place at a meeting of the Ripon Society in Washington, D.C., in which the RNC's Mike Shields told a group of about 40 people that the party was taking on "the professional right." (While he was the White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in 2010 stirred up liberal fury when he spoke dismissively of "the professional left.") Shields indicated he was fed up with conservative groups who send out crazy emails and direct mail to raise cash. "They won’t come to us and ask. They just send out lies and ask for money. I have to tear up mailings at my own parents’ house and tell them which emails to delete," Shields said.
Most people with elderly conservative relatives are familiar with conservative fundraising and petition emails and letters. A classic example of the form at right comes from Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, as noted by Rick Perlstein, who chronicled the distinct style of the right-wing fearmongering fundraising letter for The Baffler. The letters tell apocalyptic stories about atheist professors who want to teach gay sex to kindergarteners, or United Nations plots to doom the U.S. dollar, or your average smug elite laughing all the way to the bank, and only you can stop them by donating $5, $10, or $25. A more recent example comes from Newt Gingrich's Gingrich Productions, which sent out this threat that Obama could run for a third term, below.
Breitbart News is reporting Shields's criticism on these hyperbolic fundraising letters as, well, hyperbolically as they usually do, spinning it into an attack on the conservative grassroots by the Republican Establishment. The RNC later clarified that Shields was only attacking "beltway professionals whose focus is solely to make a profit off the party and movement." But not everyone was convinced. Leahy thought Shields was attacking non-Beltway groups like FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots.) Brent Bozell, Chairman of ForAmerica, said Shields' comments were "insulting." FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe said, "It's sad to hear that GOP insiders are disparaging the freedom community behind closed doors..." An anonymous Republican source told Leahy that Shields was not to be trusted:
Shields is dangerous. He has no internal compass, and his political mentor is Congressman Dave Reichert. Reichert is probably the most liberal Republican in the House. He has never had a job in the private sector.
But Erick Erickson, Fox News pundit and editor of the conservative blog RedState, defended Shields. In February, Erickson said his site would hire more reporters, because conservative media had a tendency to shoot itself in the foot by focusing more on generating outrage than on finding facts. "We do our cause more harm than good if we get outrageously outraged over every slight and grievance," Erickson said. So it makes sense Erickson would also be tired of outrage-generating emails. He writes:
The professional right needs to be blown up. My regret is that he and those around him claim he was not going as far as it is claimed he went. I would want him to go further.
Perhaps it's personal, because like Shields, Erickson has to tell his mom to ignore some mailings.
My mother constantly gets mail at her house begging her for money to fight the good fight. More often than not, the groups begging her for help have “Tea Party” in their name and they are all scams.
But Erickson says the RNC is to blame, too. Note that it's easy to imagine this line in a post at Wonkette:
The RNC too has become a junk mail / spam machine pulling on the heartstrings of older Americans and, when all else fails, sending out cardboard backed photographs of Ronald Reagan.