So, as most of you know, I lean towards the Tea Party. They’re the best thing to happen to the GOP – and American politics – since the Goldwater insurgency in ’64, but I digress. As the shutdown drama subsided last Fall, many on the left – as usual – were relishing in the demise of the Tea Party. Then, Obamacare had a meltdown. Now, it seems like the Tea Party isn’t going away given their non-apocalyptic standing in the latest Washington Post/ ABC News poll last November. Then again, the Tea Party can also operate effectively without popular support, which is the beauty of it.
As Theta Skocpol aptly noted – albeit with a liberal slant – in her December 26 article in the Atlantic:
Here is the key point: Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority—indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center—the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincer operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all Tea Party activists, sympathizers, and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics. The entire pincer operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes”—including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark.
Additionally, the American people’s trust in government has nose-dived, which is – as Skocpol writes, “a big win for anti-government saboteurs.” Granted, I don’t think the Tea Party are acting like “saboteurs.” I also don’t think that they’re “radical.” They’re just trying to bring a sense of fiscal sanity and accountability to a government that’s run amok since Obama took office.
What about the moderates you say? Well, they’re going extinct.
Also worth remembering is that “moderate Republicans” barely exist right now. Close to two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent U.S. default on loan obligations, and Boehner has never repudiated such extortionist tactics. Tea Partiers may not call for another shutdown right away, but they will continue to be able to draw most GOP legislators and leaders into aggressive efforts to obstruct and delay. In the electorate, moreover, more than half of GOP voters sympathize with the Tea Party and cheer on obstructionist tactics, and the remaining Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are disorganized and divided in their views of the likes of Ted Cruz.
Yes, the Chamber of Commerce has declared an “insane” war on conservatives, but are they seriously going to sink more right-leaning candidates and improve Democratic electoral chances in the few districts where their dying breed can win? Oh, and there’s that bit about the Chamber using conservatives when it benefitted them.
When it comes to “reining in” the Tea Party, business associations and spokespeople may talk bigger than they will act. They have lots to say to reporters, but they show few signs of mounting the kind of organized, sustained efforts it would take to counter Tea Party enthusiasm and funding. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce have spent decades using right-wing energy to help elect Republicans, who, once elected, are supposed to focus on tax cuts and deregulation. It used to be relatively easy to con Christian-right voters with flashy election symbolism and then soft-pedal their preferences once Republicans took office. Today’s far right is unmistakably another cup of tea. Even as business funders realize this, however, they will be tempted to keep replaying the old strategies, because turning to Democrats will usually not seem acceptable, and it will be almost impossible in many states and districts to mount GOP primary challenges from the middle-right without improving Democratic prospects in general election contests.
Furthermore, there’s no way that Karl Rove and his crew are going to stand idle and let the Chamber reap the reward if they’re successful in 2014; this is problematic since Rove is considered anathema to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Alas, the lonely position of neutral, which is where most moderates end up. Can’t go forward, but retreating isn’t an option. What to do?
Tea Partiers march ahead, stay the course, and never compromise; not even in the face of Armageddon. Hence, why they’ll be staying for a long, long time.
True, the events of October 2013 helped millions of middle-of-the-road voters—and even quite a few complacent political reporters—grasp the dangers of the sabotage-oriented radicalism in today’s Republican Party. But it will take a long and dogged struggle to root out radical obstructionism on the right, and the years ahead could yet see Tea Partiers succeed by default. Unless non-Tea Party Republicans, independents, and Democrats learn both to defeat and to work around anti-government extremism—finding ways to do positive things for the majority of ordinary citizens along the way—Tea Party forces will still win in the end. They will triumph just by hanging on long enough to cause most Americans to give up in disgust on our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government.
Yet, this is where Skocpol is wrong. First, we’re a federal constitutional republic – not a democracy –which already has obstructionism within its DNA. What do you think was the intention of the veto, veto override, judicial review, supermajorities, and the filibuster? It was meant to slow down government, to hamstring it, to make sure we would not succumb to transient majorities, albeit Harry Reid decided to nuke the Senate last December.
The Tea Party represents the dysfunctions that our government is suppose to exude when it comes to policy. After all, safety – not efficiency – is what set the tone at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It’s hard to combat a sentiment that is indelibly American, which is a gross distrust –and fear – of a large federal government.
Wait, what about Ted Cruz? Oh, well, he’s only received near total name recognition; garners united Tea Party support for the 2016 nomination, which could see a more conservative candidate emerge as the victor than a moderate; and he’s probably going to run the table on Republican policy for the next three years.
Speaking of which, Cruz is very well positioned to garner unified Tea Party support in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. During the last election cycle, no far-right candidate ever consolidated sustained grassroots Tea Party support, as those voters hopped from Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum. But this time, Cruz may very well enjoy unified and enthusiastic grassroots Tea Party support from the beginning of the primary election season. In the past, less extreme GOP candidates have always managed to garner the presidential nomination, but maybe not this time. And even if a less extreme candidate finally squeaks through, Cruz will set much of the agenda for Republicans heading into 2016.
Well, here’s to freedom.