Hip-Pocket Politics: How To Become a Tack

Recently by Gary North: Oldspapers and the Crisis of the Establishment

“If you are in the hip pocket of any political party, prepare to be sat on.” ~ Gary North

Political victory in the United States is best defined as follows:

Getting your political agenda enacted into law, enforced by the Executive branch, and upheld by the courts.

A definition of political victory that ignores any of these criteria is part of a shell game: getting people elected for their careers’ sake, not your agenda.

To achieve this three-part victory, you must be part of a voting bloc that has the power to impose sanctions: positive and negative.

Establishment politicians understand this. They respect it. They have learned to exploit it. They tell their constituents: “You can win through me if you supply the votes to enable me to win (positive sanction) at the expense of my opponent (negative sanction).” This is the politics of the shell game, what I call the Punch and Judy show.

The correct definition of the power to impose political sanctions is this:

Sufficient votes to deliberately keep your party’s candidate from winning in November if he waffles, and sufficient votes to elect his replacement two years later.

There is a corollary:

The willingness to run a post-nomination independent candidate against an incumbent member of your party if he has waffled during his most recent term in office.

Any voting bloc that has this ability will not be in any party’s hip pocket.

Conclusion: a fundamental strategy for political success is to get the rival wing of your party into the party’s hip pocket.

In modern American history, we saw this strategy applied by the Eastern Republican Establishment’s refusal to support Goldwater in 1964. They ran Governor Scranton as a last-ditch effort to keep Goldwater from getting the nomination. When that failed, they literally walked out of the convention.

Johnson won in 1964. He did not run in 1968. Nixon defeated Humphrey, and the Republican Establishment took over the White House in 1969. They were willing to go down to defeat in 1964 in order to ruin the Goldwater wing of the party. They were wise to do this.

Goldwater sold out the conservatives in 1968. The Rockefeller wing that had ruined his candidacy in 1964 got him to give his infamous “grow up, conservatives” speech at the 1968 convention. “Grow up” meant “vote for Nixon.” He lived to regret this. He was on the side of the pro-impeachment Republicans in 1974. Too late.

Note: Ron Paul refused to support John McCain in 2008. That decision was crucial. It kept his supporters from sucking up to the Republican Establishment. They owe it nothing. This leads me to North’s law of political suction:

“If you don’t suck up, you avoid being sucked in and then sucked down.”


Mainstream Republican politicians now face a major problem: the rise of the Tea Party movement. These furious voters are in no one’s hip pocket. They are in a position to de-rail any Republican candidate who does not promise to roll back taxes and spending. They can run an independent candidate after the nomination of a squishy Republican. They can spoil his election night party.

The Tea Party movement is now the largest swing vote bloc in the Republican Party. It is going to get larger.

CBS News has an on-line poll for the Republican Presidential race. It’s here.

On April 8, Ron Paul beat Sarah Palin, 41% to 22%. The two of them constituted almost two-thirds of the votes.

In 2007, who had heard of either of them?

Mitt Romney so far is an also-ran. If he announces, I think he will be the front-runner. But the fact that his results are in single digits surprises me. It is almost as if the voters have forgotten about him. How is this possible? This is not politics as usual. This indicates a true shift in the Republican voters’ thinking. The poll is not scientific, but think through what it means. CBS is not the media outlet of choice among conservatives. The people who are most likely to visit this page are more likely to be mainstream Republicans.

In the article that introduces the poll, we read the following:

Paul, of course, is a libertarian-leaning Republican who could well duplicate his 2008 run, but he is seen as a candidate with passionate but limited appeal within the party. Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, though critics were quick to point out that the respondents were not necessarily representative of the GOP as a whole.

When 31% of the conservatives at CPAC voted for him, what does it mean when he gets 40% of the CBS vote? How will the Republican Party’s Establishment spinmeisters spin this?

This poll reveals something like an ideological revolution inside the party. If it doesn’t reveal this, then it reveals something else, namely, that conservative users of the Web have the ability to skew results dramatically. Do the folks at CBS News want to tell their readers that they should ignore the results of this poll, because conservatives are the dominant force on the Web, including the CBS News site? Is that the image of CBS News that the folks at CBS News want to convey? That the Website is a plaything of conservatives? Oh, the agony of it all!

The Web has made this possible. The Establishment has no clue as to what to do about this. The networks are losing their grip on the choices people have available to them. The voters can — and do — bypass the MSM.


Ron Paul is still dismissed as a gadfly or kook by the mainstream media. He is not taken seriously. Yet he keeps scoring straw poll victories. This should not be happening, they believe.

When I was his research assistant in 1976, we knew that on some votes, the outcome would be 434 to 1. He would be the lone “no” vote. This has not changed. He is still the lone ranger in the House.

The problem for the Republican Establishment is that he represents a rising swing vote nationally. He and Palin together represent a growing threat to the Party’s Punch and Judy show that Republican incumbents play with incumbent Democrats. The doctrine of representation matters in politics. These two represent disillusioned Republican voters who are in a position to inflict permanent losses on Republican candidates who operate in terms of politics as usual.

In 2010, Ron Paul remains the ultimate loner inside the Beltway. Outside the Beltway, he is not a loner. The Republican voter in the street knows who he is. There is no other person in Congress even close to his ability to gain votes at this stage.

This is causing consternation inside the Republican Establishment. Paul can raise tens of millions of dollars on the Web. They know that. He has a constant YouTube presence. They don’t. He has a hard-core audience inside the Tea Party movement. Only Sarah Palin matches him, which gives the big-spending Republican Establishment no comfort. They hate her, too.


The name of the political game in both parties is to ignore your sure voters, since they are sure. You offer a few platitudes. That satisfies them. They may grumble, but they will vote for the party’s candidate. They constitute about 10% of the Party’s total vote. You then appeal to the moderate 80%, which includes independents and wavering members of the rival party. You ignore the extreme wing of the party, offering them platitudes. You know they won’t support you.

I offer two examples. First, Obama has opened up off-shore drilling to oil companies. The greens are outraged, but they are in the Democrats’ hip pocket. Second, his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his refusal to bring troops home from Iraq. The peace wing has swallowed hard and has kept quiet. When you are part of a voting bloc that is in a party’s hip pocket, you will be sat on.

In November, a Republican candidate will face a major problem with the old strategy. Tea Party voters are in no one’s hip pocket. The hard-core Tea Party types will not support him unless he gets tough on taxes and spending. They may even run a rival candidate and siphon off his votes in the general election. He will probably lose if they do.

This is the big threat: rival candidates in the general election. No more falling in line behind the mush-mouth sell-out who is now trying to recruit the moderates.

The anti-tax Republican Right is growing like a brush fire in August. The Tea Party movement did not exist in late 2008. It is a major factor today. It constitutes the swing vote that Republican candidates need to win in November. It came out of nowhere. It is the loose cannon bouncing around on the political deck. Any Republican challenger who ignores it will lose.

The Republican candidates can see this now. The ones who cash in on it will be favored to get the nomination. Incumbents will be able to point to their opposition to Obama’s health care. But if voters ask them if they will vote to repeal, they had better say yes.

When voters vote in terms of anger, they are dangerous to incumbents. They are also a threat to challengers who want to paper over this anger. Republicans who run on the basis of bipartisanship and “coming together” in November will not win.

The Tea Party people are spoilers. They are a real threat to the go-along-to-get-along Republicans who dominate the national party. They are in a position to upset the existing system by running an independent candidate or multiple candidates after the nomination goes to a mush-mouth.

They have the power of the veto in November. He who has this power and who uses it can get his way. If Tea Party voters demonstrate for two consecutive elections that they can keep a Republican moderate from being elected, Republican moderates will get religion or be replaced by those who are not willing to compromise.

The great spoiler of this century was Ralph Nader. He ran a third-party campaign in 2000: Green Party. In New Hampshire, he got about 22,000 votes. Gore lost by 7,200. Most of Nader’s votes would have gone for Gore. New Hampshire’s four electoral votes would have given Gore the Presidency. Republican candidates in 2010 will have to factor the Tea Party voters into their campaigns. The public’s anger will be even greater in 2012. It is spreading to the independents. Any political candidate who runs on a platform of “me, too, but slower” is going to lose the Republican Party’s nomination in 2012.

Republican voters are fed up.

I see this as a tremendous opportunity for grass roots mobilization at the local level. People who are fed up with Washington have a shot at digging in locally.


The most important power in politics is the power to impose pain on politicians. Civil government is about imposing negative sanctions on law-breakers. So is politics.

Any time a politician begins to think you are in his hip pocket, make sure he knows you are a tack.

The Tea Party movement is growing. Rising taxes and rising deficits will guarantee that this will continue.

If the Tea Party bloc cannot get its candidates nominated, it should run third-party candidates every time. It should kill the chances of any Republican candidate unless he decides to pander to them.

The Establishment Republicans will wail in despair. “This is keeping the party from winning.” Exactly! The goal is to do this for as long as the Republic Party does not publicly pursue the agenda of the Tea Party wing.

Two election cycles later, the wafflers will be gone. At that point, the Tea Party bloc will control the Republican Party’s grass roots.

The political cancer today is big spending. Big spenders must be removed with surgical precision. Every candidate must know that he will lose in November if he waffles.

Politicians see the light only when they feel the heat. This is the doctrine of hell in politics. It is time to give politicians hell.

April 10, 2010

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2010 Gary North