"We're Failing the Propaganda Battle"
The Groundswellers feel that they too often lose the political narrative to their progressive rivals. One memo that circulated among members declared, "We must reclaim the language and put 'a face' on our messages; tell stories. Write articles on 4th grade level!"
A Groundswell memo noted, "Terms like, 'GOP,' 'Tea Party,' 'Conservative' communicate 'racism.'" They proposed an alternative: "Fredrick Douglas Republican."
Notes from a February 28 Groundswell gathering reflected both their collective sense of pessimism and desire for aggressive tactics: "We are failing the propaganda battle with minorities. Terms like, 'GOP,' 'Tea Party,' 'Conservative' communicate 'racism.'" The Groundswellers proposed an alternative: "Fredrick Douglas Republican," a phrase, the memo noted, that "changes minds." (His name is actually spelled "Frederick Douglass.") The meeting notes also stated that an "active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them" with "vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight."
The notes from the March 20 meeting summed up Groundswell griping: "Conservatives are so busy dealing with issues like immigration, gay marriage and boy scouts there is little time left to focus on other issues. These are the very issues the Left wants to avoid but we need to magnify. R's cannot beat Obama at his own game but need to go on the offense and define the issues." The group's proposed offensive would include hyping the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking controversy, slamming Obama's record, and touting Benghazi as a full-fledged scandal. "The problem," the memo noted, "is Speaker Boehner and [Rep.] Mike Rogers (Intelligence Community) are refusing to deal" with the Benghazi issue. It added, "Leaders can and should be shamed into doing the right thing."
Another problem for right-wingers, this memo pointed out, was that though "a group of freshmen and sophomore representatives in Congress…are willing and ready to stand up" for conservative causes, "no one is willing to step up and become that leader." Reflecting the dim view held by Groundswell members of House GOPers, the memo maintained that too many Republican lawmakers were co-opted by power and reluctant to challenge House Republican leaders: "The Speaker holds the control in the House. He controls committees, chairmanships, meeting rooms, etc. Conservatives sell out rationalizing their compromises will position them to advance their agenda through committee work. In reality they are being bought." Boehner, according to his memo, was too frightened to confront Obama head-on regarding budget issues because he "believes that Newt lost his speakership due to the government shutdown."
Venting about weak and squishy GOP leaders was a regular feature of Groundswell gatherings. One action item put it bluntly:
GAP of REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP: how do we tell them they are failing their base; will lose in 2014 unless they fight for principles (as opposed to show disdain for them and accommodate Obama; O is dividing Rs and they seem clueless: IDEAS NEEDED!
A week later, Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address the group on the "lack of Republican Leadership right now, and Rove." For 10 minutes.
At the March 27 meeting, Groundswellers once more voiced their anger with the GOP establishment and Rove—ideological sellouts, they believed, who undercut conservative candidates in order to back Republicans deemed more electable. They discussed the efforts among conservatives to respond to the Republican Party's recently released autopsy (PDF) of the 2012 elections, which called on the party to be more inclusive of minorities and less severe on social issues.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, the post-meeting memo huffed, "is sending messages to the party…If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. He is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, 'don't go Old Testament' and advising the party to consider what Rove said about the next nominees could speak favorably of homosexual marriage in the campaign." The memo summed up Groundswell's preferred solution to GOP woes: "embrace the libertarian and conservative wing of the party."
"I'm Going to Need Help Pushing Back"
Shortly after its creation, Groundswell started bolstering interactions between right-wing advocates and conservative members of the Senate and the House. On March 5, Gaston Mooney, a staffer for the Senate Republican Steering Committee, posted a message to Groundswell's Google group asking for questions that could be posed to Gina McCarthy, Obama's nominee to lead the EPA, during confirmation hearings or in meetings between her and individual senators. (She was confirmed as EPA chief this month.)
"If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. [RNC chair Reince Priebus] is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, 'don't go Old Testament.'"
At an April 3 meeting, Groundswell members were encouraged to send Paul Teller, executive director of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of House conservatives, "feasible asks in exchange for raised debt ceiling." The post-meeting memo noted, "House conservatives want clear consensus on what the conservative grassroots want to see negotiated." Here was a chance for Groundswellers to shape the next debt ceiling showdown.
In Groundswell's first months, one of the most active members in its Google group was Danielle Cutrona, chief counsel to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. She frequently placed information—speeches, articles, press releases—on Groundswell's Google group. In February, she posted opposition research material regarding a judicial appointment and asked members to distribute it: "Any help is much appreciated." In another message to Groundswell, she requested assistance in opposing the pro-immigration reform GOP establishment. "I'm going to need help pushing back," she wrote.
On one occasion, Cutrona promoted a column from the conservative site RedState.com. Headlined "Who is Going to Put an End to the McCain/Graham Circus?" this RedState.com post excoriated Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as "Benedict Arnolds" for retreating on their opposition to Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary and for "their treachery on the issue of illegal immigration." Cutrona, who occasionally used her official Senate email to communicate with Groundswell members, was encouraging this band of conservatives to spread the word that two party colleagues of her boss were ideological traitors. A spokesman for Sessions says that this blog post did not reflect Cutrona's views and "was simply one of scores of diverse news and opinion pieces she emailed on immigration."