Frank Luntz, Paul Ryan, and the GOP Inauguration Night Conspiracy

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Few successful conspiracies are published.
Most conspiracy theories are incredible because they presuppose that the conspirators can keep a secret. The truth is the more people involved the less likely that the conspiracy will remain secret. In the GOP inauguration night conspiracy, somebody talked. And Robert Draper reported it in his book “Do Not Ask What Good We Do.” According to Draper, on January 20, 2009 – inauguration night – Frank Luntz, a GOP communications expert, organized a dinner with GOP members of both the House of Representatives and of the Senate. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and journalist Fred Barnes also attended the dinner. Representatives Cantor, McCarthy, Ryan, Session, Hensarling, Hoekstra, and Lungren were there. Senators DeMint, Kyl, Coburn, Ensign, and Corker were present.
At that dinner, they started planning to take back the House of Representatives in 2010 and the White House in 2012. Cantor said it should be about ideas. So far, no harm, no foul. Politicians ought to make the case for their ideas and for their policy positions then let the voters decide. However, once the voters have decided, our representatives have a responsibility to work together to get something done for the good of the nation and of the world.
However, this was not the decision they made. They decided to contest EVERYTHING and not to work with the president on ANYTHING. This is where that meeting degenerated from benign to malignant. It was Paul Ryan’s contribution to say that the GOP ought to remain united against the president. Draper writes:
“‘But everybody’s got to stick together.’ said Paul Ryan, a thirty-eight-year-old Wisconsin congressman and numbers fetishist whose shiny earnestness recalled an Ozzie and Harriet America” (xvii).
At the end of the meeting they had a plan. This is where the meeting became a conspiracy against the American people. Draper writes they intended to “Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies. . . . Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. . . . Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012” (xix).
In their blind will-to-power, the group either could not see or did not care about the real life struggles of the American people and their obligation to help them. They were elected to serve not to rule. In their single-minded commitment to defeat President Obama, they forgot their duty to the people of the United States. They did not consider the real-life impact of the deepest economic retraction since the Great Depression. I say and say again that this is a hole so deep that with everyone’s best cooperative efforts it will take a decade to climb out.
While they were plotting against the president and against their constituents, people lost jobs, health care, and hope. This fit the plan. They wanted the American people to lose hope for the sake of their own electoral advantage.
However, the Recovery Act a.k.a. stimulus passed without any Republican votes thanks to Eric Cantor, House Minority whip, who attended the dinner. This unanimous opposition to the Recovery Act did not stop Republican lawmakers from requesting funds for their districts nor from taking smiling pictures at ribbon-cutting ceremonies when the stimulus projects started.
The conspirators were true to their word. The health-care reform law passed despite their obstructionism. They proposed a pitiful alternative that would have extended coverage to only about 3 million people. They had no concern for the nearly 50 million people who lack health insurance. Let us never forget that people die daily in the United States because they do not have health insurance. These facts did not enter into their calculations.
They tried to block everything, but despite their intent, much was accomplished in the 111th Congress. According to Bloomberg News “The 111th Congress made more law affecting more Americans since the ‘Great Society’ legislation of the 1960s.” (
Still the GOP demonized Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and told tall tales about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to win control of the House in 2010. They achieved this part of the plan. With control of the House they continued to obstruct the president’s plans for the country, including a jobs bill that economists say would add anywhere from 288,000 to 1.9 million jobs. (
Now they are taking aim at the White House and accusing the president of being unwilling to work in a bi-partisan manner. Now must be the time for Frank Luntz to do his part. Draper does not say this was part of the plan, but I see Frank Luntz in television interviews talking about President Obama’s unwillingness to work with Congress.
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Luntz talked about how the American people are disappointed in the president. “They wanted him to succeed,” he says. He tells Rose that the American people have moved from anxiety to depression and even despair, and that they believe the system is broken. ( Luntz does not tell us that he helped to break it. He does not say whether or not he informs the people in his focus groups of his part in a conspiracy against them. He concludes that “Barack Obama is responsible for the country.” He does not say that the president cannot pass legislation without the Congress. He does not speak of congressional responsibility. Charlie Rose does not ask Luntz why he plotted against the American people in an attempt to defeat Barack Obama.
A few weeks later on October 5, 2012 Luntz appears on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Again he speaks about the emotional content of his focus groups.
“People in the focus groups burst out in tears because they don’t have enough money at the end of the week. They’re not sure their job is going to exist. Whether you’re Democrat or American Bill, people are really hurting.”
He does not say that Congress refuses to pass a jobs bill that would at once create jobs and repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. He does not speak of the conspiracy. Luntz asks the audience a question to set up his rant against President Obama.
“Tell the truth. Is Barack Obama more likely to work with Congress? Think of what he has done over the last four years compared to what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. He can’t work with Congress. He doesn’t talk to them. He doesn’t like them. It takes two to tango. He doesn’t hold meetings with them. He doesn’t consult them. He doesn’t even negotiate with his own party. At some point you’ve got to be able to talk.” (“Real Time with Bill Maher” 10/5/12)
Luntz clearly assumes that we are not paying attention, that we do not remember that President Obama and Speaker Boehner were very close to a deal to reduce the deficit before Boehner walked away. The unified front against the president that Ryan advocated held. Luntz does not think that some of us remember the president attending a televised GOP meeting where he took their questions. He does not think that we do not see that the president’s health-care law is basically a Republican plan that includes a mandate that originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation. ( He does not think that we have read Robert Draper’s book.
Just as Rose did not ask Luntz about the conspiracy, neither did Bill Maher.
Frank Luntz is a talker who helps Republicans choose the words they think will persuade the public. Once we know his tricks, we need not concern ourselves with him. The others, however, are elected officials who need our consent to stay in office and to maintain power. Paul Ryan is asking the American people for a promotion. He is asking us to reward the conspiracy against us.