MEMBERS ONLY: How Conservatives Sold Themselves to Russia

by Justin Rosario

It seems like every couple of days we discover yet another person on the right was getting paid by Russia or some other country to push their agenda. And it seems like every time we find out that a conservative is working against the interests of the United States we’re shocked. But we shouldn’t be in the slightest. I submit that this is the natural progression of modern American conservative politics and it’s only going to accelerate going forward.

40 years ago, the idea of a conservative working for Russia was unthinkable. The patriotism may have been toxic but it was authentic. Now? American conservatism is a giant money-making scam run by people whose sole motivation is to get rich at any cost, even if it means committing literal treason.

The list of Trump staffers and conservative associates currently or previously on Moscow’s payroll is impressive: Carter Page, Michael Flynn, Rex Tillerson, Paul Manafort, Wilbur Ross, etc. All have serious financial ties to a hostile foreign power and have been doing their level best to undermine the United States. Are all of these people Russian sympathizers? Doubtful. Have they all made quite a bit of money working for Russia in some capacity? Yup.

And why shouldn’t they? American conservatives in pursuit of a payday haven’t cared about incidentally damaging America in decades, the only difference is that now they’re being paid to do it on purpose.

According to Rick Perlstein, chronicler of all things right wing, the origin of this move towards grift can be traced to the 1960s when the right wing began to build its series of think tanks and media outlets to pass off conservative propaganda as serious scholarship. Already geared towards dishonesty to sell the Republican agenda, it didn’t take much for someone to realize they could make a lot of money with little effort:

First alone, and then with a small army of “Kelly Girls” (as he [Richard Viguerie] put it to me in 1996), he started copying down the names and addresses in longhand until some nervous bureaucrat told him to cease and desist.

By then, though, it was too late: Viguerie had captured some 12,500 addresses of the most ardent right-wingers in the nation. “And that list,” he wrote in his 2004 book, America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Over America, “was my treasure trove, as good as the gold bricks deposited at Fort Knox, as I started The Viguerie Company and began raising money for conservative clients.”

It certainly was a treasure trove as most of the money raised went back to the people that raised the money instead of the cause or politician they were ostensibly raising the money for. This scam has been going on for decades and with the introduction of unaccountable Super PACs, right wing con artists like Sarah Palin have reached might may well be peak fleecing of rank and file conservatives:

Over the first half of 2013, SarahPAC took in $460,000, but spent more than $495,000. Despite its stated purpose of supporting like-minded candidates, it donated to only one—giving $5,000 to Jason Smith, a conservative Republican backed by the NRA and pro-life groups who won a special election in Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District in June by a margin of 67–27.

In contrast, the group spent almost $484,000 on fundraising, research, speechwriting, and high-end travel. This is a comedown from the 2012 cycle, when SarahPAC raised eyebrows for spending more than $4.8 million on consultants while doling out $298,500 to candidates…

With the advent of Fox News, the spread of AM Hate Radio and the explosion of right wing websites, we have entered the end stage of a business model designed explicitly to do extensive harm to American conservatives:

These are bedtime stories, meant for childlike minds. Or, more to the point, they are in the business of producing childlike minds. Conjuring up the most garishly insatiable monsters precisely in order to banish them from underneath the bed, they aim to put the target to sleep.

Dishonesty is demanded by the alarmist fundraising appeal because the real world doesn’t work anything like this. The distance from observable reality is rhetorically required; indeed, that you haven’t quite seen anything resembling any of this in your everyday life is a kind of evidence all by itself. It just goes to show how diabolical the enemy has become. He is unseen; but the redeemer, the hero who tells you the tale, can see the innermost details of the most baleful conspiracies. Trust him. Send him your money. Surrender your will—and the monster shall be banished for good. 

And again, why not? Making bank at the expense of others is a central tenet of conservative ideology. Turning millions of otherwise rational Americans into a stew of delusional paranoid rage is not only permissible, but to be desired. The more easily manipulated they are, the more money one can make from exploiting them.

At the same time the conservative base was being reduced to its id, some Republicans sold themselves to the highest bidder and, unsurprisingly, that turned out to be multinational corporations and billionaires with infinitely deep pockets. Already comfortable betraying conservative voters for power and profit, it’s not much of a step to betray your country the same way. The 1% has been cut loose from such mundane cares as national pride or loyalty to one’s country of birth and they effectively exist as political entities unto themselves. 

The conservative con artists that prize money over anything and everything else have voluntarily become the first citizens of these borderless nation states. Trump and his fellow Russian puppets do not serve Russia so much as they serve Putin’s vast wealth. To them, crippling the United States is not an act of war or treason; there’s no ideological or political motivation involved beyond the acquisition of money. Russia presented an opportunity to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice and they took it.

And knowing what kind of people we’re talking about explains why the Rosneft story doesn’t seem completely ludicrous. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the summary is that Russia sold off 19.5% of its state owned oil company worth billions to unnamed persons. The current working theory is that some of it was a bribe to Trump and his associates so they would lift the sanctions on Russia, allowing Exxon-Mobil to move in and help them exploit the Arctic oil reserves worth an easy half trillion dollars.

The president of the United States and his associates accepting a mutli-billion dollar bribe to aid one of our top geopolitical enemies sounds like the plot of a poorly written Tom Clancy novel. But just as no one doubts Trump is capable of the disgusting acts alleged in the Steele Dossier, no one seriously doubts that he would sell America out in a heartbeat for a couple of billion. He’s a creature of low character with no allegiance to anyone but his pursuit of money; a pure distillation of American conservatism.

So much of conservative politics has become a money-making scheme that we need to stop treating it as an aberration. By refusing to accept that American conservatism is hopelessly and fatally corrupt, we’re allowing uncontrollable greed to be the organizing principle of one of our two major political parties. Now that the world knows how easy it is to buy the “loyalty” of Republicans and right wing operatives, we’re in real danger of having our system of government permanently subverted by whichever foreign power is willing to pay the most.

The scariest part is how many will be rushing to cash in on this new gold mine.