The Continuous Failure of the Tea Party

Dave Helfert




Okay, everybody who thinks the Tea Party and the other rightwing nuts and bolts in Congress have learned a difficult but valuable lesson, take one step forward.  Not so fast.


The far right’s immediate reaction to overwhelming rejection of Tea Party priorities by the American public has been to take a step back, shake their heads a little and get ready for the next fight in January.  And make no mistake: there will be another fight in January.


This battle actually began three years ago when a small group of anti-government zealots were elected from bright red congressional districts to lead the very institution they detest.  For decades, they’d been embraced by the Republican establishment because they provided the critical mass and passion to win elections.  And in 2010, they helped the GOP reclaim a majority in the House.  Only this time, after the election, the Tea Party and their friends refused to sit down and be quiet.


Now, they’re backed by fountainheads of ideology, including Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and Club for Growth.  And thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by political hacks, these Washington organizations have huge pots of campaign dollars to fund their free speech.  Working with the Tea Party, they can terrify any Republican officeholder who strays from the path with the specter of an ultraconservative opponent next election.  And since no elected official can even envision a world in which they don’t hold office, a small group has pretty much called the shots on the Hill.


Even after the defeat, the Tea Party folks are not about to relent.  They’re not going to suddenly see the light and start working with people who hold divergent views to get things done.  They weren’t sent to Washington to get things done.  They were sent to stop things from getting done.


They’re not burdened with any doubt about their mission or the rectitude of their cause.  That singular focus, however, did make them susceptible to a cross between snake oil salesman and the Pied Piper in Senator Ted Cruz, who came over to the House, held a pep rally and led them off a cliff.


Bruised but undaunted, they’re already stoking themselves up for Round Two:  “We fought the good fight.”  “We would have prevailed if we had more true conservatives in the House and Senate.”  “Washington did not listen to the American people.”   If they need to jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of Americans again, not to mention the financial standing of the country, to advance their agenda, that’s just the price of liberty.


The great unknown is whether House Speaker John Boehner will stand up to this tyrannical minority as he ultimately did on the shutdown vote, or whether he will totally cave as he did in the weeks and months before.  No one can ever be sure if Boehner will choose to act like the Speaker of the House — the whole House — a constitutional office third in line to the presidency, or whether he’ll just be the political spokesman for the majority party.


The Tea Party and friends are absolutely unbowed by defeat, or by the disrepute they’ve brought on themselves, their party and Congress. According to a nonpartisan Pew Research Center poll conducted during the shutdown, “the Tea Party is less popular than ever, with even many Republicans now viewing the movement negatively. Overall, nearly half of the public (49 percent) has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while 30 percent have a favorable opinion.”


Additionally, according to Pew, nearly three-quarters of registered voters would like to see most members of Congress defeated in the next midterm election; 38 percent do not want their own representative reelected.


No problem.  Let’s have another fight over government shutdown in January and over the debt ceiling in February.  It’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind.  Isn’t it?


Author Bio:

Dave Helfert has been a political and governmental communicator for more than 30 years, writing speeches for elected officials and candidates, creating media in more than 200 political campaigns, working for six years as a Communications Director in the Clinton Administration and then nine years in the U.S. House.


Photo: Fibonacci Blue (Flickr).

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