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Is Republican Swiftboating Going Out Of Style?

Jonathan Martin has an interesting piece up about the apparent lack of well-funded GOP 527 groups. He writes:

Conversations with more than a dozen Republican strategists find near unanimity in the belief that, at some point, there will be a real third-party effort aimed at Obama.

But not one knows who will run it, who will pay for it, what shape it will eventually take or when such a group may form.

More worrisome for Republicans who believe such an outside attack apparatus is essential to defeating Obama, some key individuals and groups who were being looked to for help say they won’t be involved.

T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman who gave $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and who numerous GOP sources said was being looked to as a funding source this year, is sitting the race out.

“He is not giving anything to 527s involved in the presidential race this cycle, and has communicated that…to Republican strategists and operatives,” said Pickens spokesman Jay Rosser. ... 

Also staying out of the third-party effort this time is the powerful Republican public affairs firm, the DCI Group.

DCI ran the independent Progress for America (PFA) campaign that raised $45 million to tout George W. Bush and tar John Kerry in 2004. ...

“DCI Group is not and will not be involved in any 527 activity this cycle,” said a spokesman for the group, which has a bevy of image-sensitive corporate clients. “DCI is out of the business.”

Further, Freedom’s Watch, the one third-party group that many conservatives expected to step into the void left by PFA, has decided to exclusively focus on congressional battles.

Asked if was still the intent of Freedom’s Watch to stay out of the presidential fray, Carl Forti, the group’s director, flatly said: “Yes.” 

Jonathan fingers McCain himself for the dearth of anti-Obama 527 activity, noting that, "every individual interviewed for this story cited ... a fear that their party’s nominee will publicly denounce them and hold a grudge." But, as Jonathan notes, the McCain campaign has sent permissive signals to potential funders since wrapping up the nomination. “He wishes that 527s did not exist on either side,” Steve Schmidt, a McCain operative, says in the story. “But he understands that they do. And he certainly isn’t going to say that one side should have them and one side should not in the context of a presidential campaign.”

My own feeling is that this is largely an expression of pragmatism. Granted, there are a lot of rich ideologues out there willing to attack a Democrat regardless of the political fallout. On the other hand, most wealthy Republicans made their money in the corporate world, where the custom is to keep one eye on the bottom line at all times. These guys may be partisans, but they're not stupid. They realize there's a very good chance Obama will be president next year and that he'll enjoy large majorities in Congress. It would be bad for business to provoke the suddenly resurgent Democrats into ruthless acts of vengeance.

--Noam Scheiber