Ralph Reed’s mother once told “USA Today”, “I used to tell people he was going to be either President of the United States or Al Capone.”
In Donald Trump’s America that’s no longer an either/or proposition.
Before getting deeper into the Ralph Reed story, I hope it’s instructive to talk a bit about the political ecosystem he inhabits, at least as I see it. I’ll try my best to make it entertaining. But maybe you have to be a political junkie like me to find it so.
Putting aside big-feet media, the important inhabitants of Washington’s political ecosystem are corporations, lobbyists, legislators, and executive branch regulators. There are others, but if you think of it as a swamp populated by creatures that interact with one another beneath the surface, these are the creatures to focus on. They may be household names; but only when the stakes are highest and thus maximum power must be exerted to get what they want do they become more visible to outsiders. That’s when the whistle-blowers are heard from. That’s when we citizens get a glimpse beneath the surface. That’s now.
“Follow the money” is a fundamental explanatory principle. The more you know about how each of these swamp creatures gets its food, the better you understand the ecosystem. As a general statement, when someone alludes to “the powers that be,” that’s an outsider peering into the swamp from the distant shore.
Some swamp creatures—let’s call them rats—service others and do it so well that they become very big rats in their own right. Karl Rove always comes to mind. There are the lawyers, some from prestigious white-shoe firms, accountants, computer people, public relations specialists, bundlers, media buyers, and scores of others. They’ve evolved special skills such as election rigging, gerrymandering the districts, making legal that which is crooked, hiding and laundering illegal or politically unpalatable money. It may be legal to take a campaign contribution from a Russian mobster with U.S. citizenship but you wouldn’t want your constituents to know, and if you can’t always hide what you’re doing, you can retain the public relations firm to help you explain to them why such-and-such is in our best interests. Isn’t it better to be friends with Putin?
If you do screw up and get caught, you can have that white-shoe law firm’s white-collar crime lawyers defend you. That’s a service they provide for people like Jared Kushner. Or for the bankers who got a pass from Obama’s Justice Department lawyers, who then returned to their law firm with much praise from their partners and the firm’s banking clients.
Protecting bankers from prison is one of the few bipartisan operations in Washington. It wasn’t always.
And, of course, many of these creatures are part of the revolving door spectacle. If, for example, you’re a high-ranking Mitch McConnell staffer, you’d be a fine lobbyist for a Russian oligarch to retain so as to have Moscow Mitch, the majority leader, engineer the lifting of the sanctions you’re under for helping the Kremlin rig the 2016 election or helping with the takeover of Crimea.
Moscow Mitch doesn’t want to deal with the oligarch directly; you can tell your client what he has to do, how much it will cost, and even handle the distribution—and Mitch never even has to go near the guy.
Of course, it’s unseemly to say the least if you do this while you’re on the Senate payroll. But that’s always a little murky. Robert Rubin, for example, was negotiating his mega-million-dollar, unspecific-duties compensation package with Citibank while he was Clinton’s treasury secretary and while Sandy Weil, Citibank’s CEO, was arranging the merger with Traveler’s Insurance. That was an illegal merger unless and until Glass-Steagall was abolished—which was done with Rubin leading the effort—a root cause of the 2008 financial collapse.
(Both the McConnell and Rubin stories deserve more attention than they’ve gotten—but who can keep track of all this corruption?)
Follow the money . . . the powers that be . . . the revolving door . . . someone once defined a cliché as a truth that nobody has figured out a better way to say.
Still, I believe deeply in politics, more deeply than ever, now that we’re threatened with losing it. There is no alternative except violence or dictatorship, another form of violence. So I won’t go any further with this simplistic, cynical description of the political ecosystem. Except to say that a far better public understanding of how the business of politics actually works is indispensable to getting politicians to work for us—as they are supposed to, and as many do—but none in today’s treasonous, corrupt Republican Party.
Okay. I’d better pick up the Ralph Reed story. A lifelong Republican, with a doctorate in history no less, Ralph Reed is one of those swamp rats who’s positioned himself to service the big rats, not quite a Rove-size rat, but like Rove, selling an array of political services.
That’s not unusual. Hmmm. Sorry, I have to explain Reed with reference to another notorious Trumpster, Paul Manafort. There are similarities worth knowing. His specialty was bringing American political skills—the most sophisticated in the world—to assist some of the world’s worst characters, known as “the torturer’s lobby.”
Manafort perfumed and put lipstick on such pigs as Marcos, Mobutu, Savimbi, Abacha in Nigeria, Somalia’s Barre, Ukraine’s Yanukovych, and others, including of course Donald Trump, hopefully his last and fatal client.
He was paid handsomely for helping these very bad people seize and hold power in their countries. But it was only a piece of his business model. He would enter into lucrative contracts with the governments that he had helped these bad actors to take over. He would agree to deliver to them as many of our tax dollars from our government as could be had. Of course, our government doesn’t write those multimillion dollar checks to the bad guys—they are government-to-government payments.
In effect, the governments these terrible people controlled would become laundromats for the payments received from our government that ended up in their offshore accounts, which is how someone like Imelda Marcos ends up with enough shoes in her closet to put on the feet of every barefoot peasant in the Philippines. Needless to say, this is not Imelda’s purpose in life.
Before our government authorized those payments, Manafort advised these very bad characters which of our swamp rats must be fed and how much. Thus, no matter how garish his wardrobe or how sinister his business, Manafort was a very welcome guest at the swankiest Georgetown soirees.
Before the unfortunate events that landed him in prison and his partner, Roger Stone, convicted (they were partners in the firm Black, Manafort and Stone), the two of them were well on the way to transitioning to greatness with Donald Trump. He, of course, understands and has been operating through any number of bag men, but certainly Jared and other family members. Whether there are any Sammy the Bulls in that crowd, remains to be seen.
Ralph Reed plays a game similar to Manafort’s but with a twist. He delivers evangelical voters for Republicans candidates. Like Manafort, he helps the bad guys seize power, and when they’re in office, he lobbies them, using the same evangelicals to give the electeds a Jesus covering to do what his lobbying clients want done. And like Manafort, he advises his clients which swamp rats have to be fed, how much, and what form the payments must take.
I hope I’ve explained that well enough in Part 1, using the Abramoff lobbying scandal. I’ll pick up where that left off and then get a bit more into the weeds on his role helping George W. Bush seize power (with a tip of the hat to the Republican Supreme Court majority) —and now, of course, trying to deliver for Swamp Man himself.
SPREADING THE GOOD NEWS IN THE SWEATSHOPS
In 1999, Abramoff hired Reed to help lobby for the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth exempt from federal wage and labor laws. Manufacturers are allowed to stitch MADE IN THE U.S.A. on their products but don’t have to follow U.S. labor and other laws and regulations. Sweatshop labor, sex slavery, and forced abortions for poor workers are the hallmark of the manufacturing process there.
In August 1999, Reed’s direct-mail subsidiary sent a pamphlet to conservative Alabama Christians urging them to call a Republican congressman and thank him for opposing the imposition of federal rules on the Northern Marianas. The mailer was sponsored by—what else? “The Traditional Values Coalition.”
It claimed that “the radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas islands” and that they “have spread vicious lies about this U.S. territory to SILENCE THE GOSPEL.” Huh?
The mailer explained that those sweatshop workers “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ . . . are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand, ready to spread the gospel and start home churches.”
Maybe a stretch for us heathens but good enough for evangelicals delivering their first paychecks to their “faith leaders,” and a good enough Jesus cover for Republicans—those friends of working-class Americans—to support the sweatshops in the Northern Marianas. Who are now free to import their cheap goods into the U.S. with a “Made in the USA” label.
A company named ZTE, which does its manufacturing in the Northern Marianas, produced Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand. In May 2018, Ivanka’s business received approval for several new Chinese trademarks a week before Donald announced that he wanted to lift the ban on the Chinese company ZTE.
Ivanka’s business received three new Chinese trademarks on the same day Ivanka dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The pious Ivanka and Jared, of course, are among the biggest rats in the swamp. While sometimes it’s convenient for Trump to go anti-Semitic, as a general statement, the swamp is a very ecumenical habitat.
EVANGELICALS, CORPORATIONS, REPUBLICAN POLITICIANS, RALPH REED: A STEW POT OF CORRUPTION AND RELIGIOUS PROPAGANDA
Manafort worked the swamp for the torturer’s lobby. Reed’s clientele were some of the better-known U.S. corporations. In 1998, for example, Boeing and the Business Round Table, whose board members consist exclusively of the CEOs of major corporations, hired Reed to lead the defense of China’s most-favored-nations status. Boeing wanted to sell $120 billion worth of airplanes to China.
Earlier in his career, when he headed Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, Reed urged the revocation of China’s trade status because it represented “some of the most brutal repression of religion anywhere in the world.”
He told one interviewer, “This can’t just be about profits and losses and dollars and cents. It has to be about matters of the heart and matters of the soul and America being a moral leader in the world.” Christian conservatives vehemently opposed China’s one-child, forced-abortions policy. Ralph Reed wouldn’t stand for it. How could he now promote favorable trade status for China? People might think him a hypocrite,
He knew what he had to do. Reed hired a subcontractor to create something called “The Alliance of Christian Ministries in China.” The letterhead organization, ostensibly a group of missionary organizations, waged a media campaign, urging most-favored-nation status so that Christians could go to China and spread the Gospel!
Major corporations like Microsoft, Verizon, and others also hired Reed’s Century Strategies to deliver Christian conservative, grassroots support for their corporate agendas.
So much for Reed the corporate lobbyist and key Trump evangelical leader.