Matthew Continetti graduated from Columbia University in 2003 full of hope for the Republican Party. He moved to Washington to be part of the conservative movement, and he now writes for the Weekly Standard, a prominent right-wing magazine. Three years and one political meltdown later, Continetti has produced a charming book, The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine, the product of his front-row seat to the implosion of the movement he joined. Charming, because Continetti approaches his subjects with an innocence that can’t be anything but. To the author, the Republican Party is an idea rooted in liberty—if only its leaders would have the courage to follow their conservative convictions, a new world could dawn for all Americans. Paradise was lost, in Continetti’s mind, when Tom DeLay overthrew Newt Gingrich and took control of the House of Representatives. Instead of working to slay the beast that is big government, as Continetti thinks Gingrich was on his way to doing, DeLay beefed it up by allying the party with business lobbyists to an unprecedented degree. DeLay let it be known on K Street that Democratic lobbyists would have no access to his revolution. Lobbying firms and trade associations were told they had better hire Republicans only, or else. DeLay’s plan became known as the K Street Project. The Project’s consequences, Continetti allows, cannot be pinned entirely on DeLay—lobbying rules established by Democrats in the ’70s set up any political party to fall into the corrupt grasp of the lobbying cartel. Even so, the author hangs on to the idea that it was DeLay’s advancement of “K Street Conservatism” that drove the Republicans’ car directly into that wall. Both theories have an element of truth to them. Yes, DeLay deserves plenty of blame for corrupting the movement and selling it to its corporate masters. And yes, lobbying regulations affect the way lobbying is done. But Continetti’s wrong to think that DeLay betrayed the conservative movement by his embrace of K Street. That’s what Continetti misunderstands about the party he has hitched his wagon to. The quote he excerpts on the back jacket of his book is telling of this quaint confusion. He writes: “‘You’ve got to understand, we are ideologues,’ Tom DeLay once told a journalist. ‘We have an agenda. We have a philosophy. I want to repeal the Clean Air Act. No one came to me and said, “Please repeal the Clean Air Act.” We say to the lobbyists, “Help us.” We know what we want to do and we find people to help us do that. We go to the lobbyists and say, “Help us get this in the appropriations bill.”’” “It was a stunning admission,” writes Continetti. “Lawmakers, DeLay was basically saying, relied on paid lobbyists to get bills passed, not the other way around.” The only stunning thing here is that Continetti is stunned to hear that Republicans and big business share the same interests and work together to accomplish that agenda. Though The K Street Gang may be lacking in critical analysis, it makes up for it in its detailed and well-constructed retelling of the Jack Abramoff scandal, tracing the con artist’s roots back to his College Republican days when he, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist were inseparable comrades. To Continetti’s credit, the largest question that remains by the end of the book centers on these last two men: How is it that they don’t currently share a cell with their fallen friend? What Continetti misses, though, is that there are deeper reasons behind the party’s collapse than corruption. Or one deeper reason, at least. Just as Vietnam broke liberalism’s back, Iraq is doing likewise to the modern Republican Party.—Ryan Grim

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