Factor shows no signs of being discouraged and is thinking ahead, trying to position the Monday Meeting as an essential stop for Republican presidential hopefuls. “A lot of the most savvy 2008 people are lining up to come now,” says Elizabeth. Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, who has been extremely aggressive in positioning himself for 2008, has confirmed to speak this fall. Senator George Allen of Virginia is now trying to get a date. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has already stopped by. Factor is ecstatic about the role the meeting has taken on. Asked about its significance for the men and women who want to succeed Bush, Factor says simply, “It’s a test.”
The old generation of wealthy activists who tried to exert influence on politicians operated in the shadows. Their influence often rested on longtime personal relationships with the powerful. Today, anyone with enough money and the proper skills can become a player. The key is figuring out how to build the perception of one’s influence. You can’t just whisper in a politician’s ear, you have to let others know you are whispering. Factor recently had dinner with the former senator Connie Mack, the head of the committee appointed by Bush to come up with proposals to revamp the tax code. I know they had lunch, because Factor told me. He also recently talked with Rudy Giuliani’s chief of staff; met with Emmet Tyrrell, the editor of the American Spectator; and hosted a dinner at his home to “vet” the idea of the United States’ returning to UNESCO before President Bush formally proposed the plan. He reveals these things partially because as a novice ear-whisperer he can hardly contain his excitement. But he also knows that if people don’t know you’re a political player, then you aren’t one. Factor wants you to know.
The coming battle over the Supreme Court will be a defining moment for the Republican Party. The brand of conservatism peddled in New York at the Monday Meeting will collide with the brand that actually dominates the party. While the Christian right condemns Sandra Day O’Connor as a sellout, Wall Street praises her near-perfect pro-business record. Social conservatives despise O’Connor as a principal obstacle to overturning Roe v. Wade, while the Milton Friedman worshippers at the Monday Meeting admire the stirring defense of property rights she penned in her dissent to the hated Kelo decision. Social conservatives push for ever-greater independence at the state level, while the business community wants a court that will federalize things like awards in liability cases and certain regulations. In short, the Supreme Court nominating process will not only overwhelm the issues Wall Street cares about, it will force it into an ideological street fight with Evangelicals for which it has barely prepared.
Factor is characteristically chipper about all this. He insists that the GOP’s economic agenda will roll on. In fact, he sees a bright side to the new political landscape. “I think we’ll have a better opportunity with the Supreme Court stuff going on than we would have without it,” he argues. “A lot of the energy of the bad guys is going to be all spent on the Supreme Court issue. I’m not minimizing the issue of the Court, but you watch: Other things are going to be happening, and nobody’s going to be writing about it, except on page 17.” Perhaps there are small payoffs to Wall Street that might slip under the radar, but it’s delusional to think that Social Security is going to be transformed or Bush’s tax cuts made permanent when nobody’s looking.
Factor admits that his team hasn’t done much strategizing about the Court. When I ask what the plan is, he says, “I feel strongly about issues like Kelo v. New London, and I think we’ll be addressing some of those issues.” In other words, there is no plan. Obviously, he doesn’t speak for the whole New York donor crowd, but one does get the sense we are witnessing a massive bait and switch. The New York conservatives who financed the Republican ascendancy are suddenly looking a whole lot like simple ATM machines rather than the agents of change the Monday Meetinåg was designed to create. Factor even concedes he may have been used. “I totally agree with you that it is a danger,” he says. But he’s already concentrating on electing another GOP senator. “If we get one more after the midterms,” he gushes, “the window to get stuff done will open up again. I’m not predicting that, but if it does happen, wow!”