This Is Exactly Why People Hate Politicians

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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This post has been updated.

Sen. Ted Cruz was so upset with Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch that he “SLAMMED” her in a speech. But when the vote came around for final passage, the senator was AWOL. Instead of voting against this abominable nominee, Cruz was on a plane, headed to a fundraiser in Dallas.

It wouldn’t have mattered; Lynch was easily confirmed. But for a man who has put so much stock in the virtue of symbolic fights and votes, it felt discordant. At the very least, one of his conservative opponents will now be able to honestly say: “When it came time to vote against Obama’s liberal Attorney General nominee, Ted Cruz didn’t even bother to show up.” (Cruz can then either ignore the attack — or spend his remaining time explaining to the good folks of America what “cloture” means — and how he actually voted against the nominee before he didn’t vote on the nominee.) Who needs to cast superfluous votes when there’s money to be raised?

It’s funny how keeping donors happy and keeping voters happy can be at odds. And not just in regards to conflicts over where to spend your time (focusing on raising money vs. doing the job you were elected to do). Sometimes, it’s much more substantive. BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins recently reported a story suggesting that Sen. Marco Rubio’s tone might be different when talking to donors about immigration reform than when talking to likely primary voters. Whether or not Rubio is changing his talking points to suit his audience, it’s certainly true that big donors tend to support reform, while most primary voters decidedly don’t. And immigration reform isn’t the only issue where such a cleavage exists. This, of course, brings us to Maggie Haberman’s New York Times piece about Cruz:

Senator Ted Cruz has positioned himself as a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, urging pastors nationwide to preach in support of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, which he said was “ordained by God.”

But on Monday night, at a reception for him at the Manhattan apartment of two prominent gay hoteliers, the Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful struck quite a different tone.

In the wake of this story, Cruz reportedly reiterated his opposition to gay marriage, and explained that “he was a ‘big tent Republican’ rather than a ‘panderer.'” (It’s such a fine line, these days.) But he’s right in saying that you don’t have to agree with someone on every issue to be friends — or do business.

And I think this story — along with the Rubio article — and the fact that Scott Walker’s immigration flip-flops put him at odds with the Koch brothers, all highlight the fact that there is a yawning chasm between what some big donors want to hear and what the candidates have to tell the base. In some cases, this merely requires candidates to tweak their talking points (donors in Palm Beach might not connect with your story about shopping at Kohl’s). But in other cases, it can lead to devastating mistakes where candidates try to prove to donors and/or voters that are “severely” conservative. (Remember, it was at a fundraising event that Mitt Romney was captured on tape talking about the 47 percent.)

But it’s not just the rich donors who are whispering in your favorite candidate’s ear. Truth be told, most political staffers and operatives agree with the donors. The vast majority of staffers and operatives — yes, even the ones working for your tea party heroes! — privately support such cosmopolitan issues as gay marriage and immigration reform. Most don’t talk about it (Liz Mair, an operative who is open about her support of immigration reform, was sacked by Scott Walker).

But also consider this: Ted Cruz’s pollster is part of a group that is stressing immigration reform.

The dichotomy between the the donors and operatives on one hand — and the populist, grassroots primary voters on the other — is both stark and bipartisan. Remember when Alison Lundergan Grimes’ staffers were caught on tape basically admitting that her “pro-coal” talk was merely to get elected? Do you really think that’s exclusive to Grimes? … If so, then what about the time a libertarian-leaning Rand Paul staffer admitted that Rand Paul was just “play[ing] the game?”

This sort of thing exists in almost every campaign. (Go ahead and look at the consultants your favorite conservative politician employs … go ahead and check out who funds him.) And, to a certain extent, this is even healthy. In a way, Cruz’s comments about a “big tent” and being willing to work with people even if you disagree on some issues is refreshing. On the other hand, tea party conservatives might have reason to suspect the pandering will end as soon as their favorite candidate enters the White House. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For now, this tension is also potentially dangerous (see Romney’s aforementioned 47 percent line), and the prestidigitation required to keep everyone happy is, to say the least, embarrassing.

UPDATE: This original post incorrectly stated that Ted Cruz’s national fundraiser, Lauren Lofstrom, posted the Human Rights Campaign’s symbol for equality on her Facebook profile during the Indiana RFRA controversy (she has since deleted the image from her Facebook page). In fact, that was posted two years ago. I apologize for the error.

UPDATE 2: I’m told she hasn’t deleted the image, but rather, changed the permissions on the photo so that I (and presumably the public) cannot see it.

Note: Matt Lewis’ wife previously consulted on Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign, and currently consults for RickPAC.