Insight. Antics.

Should Democrats Root For The Tea Party?

In Politics on April 5, 2010 at 10:04 am

Maybe they should. Sounds counterintuitive, but hey, a little reverse psychology can be therapeutic. The riled up, right-wing libertarians with fringe (but curiously no tassel) Republican elements comprising the Tea Party are clearly able to earn media coverage. But can they get like-minded candidates to win elections? We’ll see in the next six months.

With John McCain bringing in Sarah Palin to fend off J.D. Hayworth’s Teabagging roots and Marco Rubio trying his darndest to expose Governor-turned-Senate-hopeful Charlie Crist as a Democrat in Florida, the Republican primaries are blossoming with Congress-types saying how outlandishly conservative they are, and in turn, want America to be.

Where to draw the line? “Government that governs best governs least. I’m for states’ rights! Let’s secede! Okay, let’s just threaten to!” “Health care reform is a crock and it will bankrupt us! The FDA is quashing your God-given right to try out brand new untested drugs for yourself! Only liberals use Band Aids!” “Drill baby, drill! What’s that you say, Obama gave in and we’re about to? Ummm… nuke baby, nuke! Wait, I didn’t mean it like that! Or maybe I did!”

By the way, J.D. Hayworth, you have a most off-putting campaign headshot. The scowling shadows and arches around your eyebrows are reminiscent of a pre-makeup, pre-Jack Nicholson Joker, well before Michael Keaton puts it all together.

Now, the campaign is a long slog. There are ups and downs. Rubio is having a bit of trouble keeping those that are supposed to be in his base. On the flip side, he just got a big revenge endorsement from Rudy Giuliani. (His opponent Crist backed McCain in the 2008 primary.) Other Tea Party hopefuls are getting thrown out by their own altogether, and for good reason.

Regardless, some of these Tea Party candidates are mounting credible runs at office. So-called establishment Republicans are scrambling to address them. So, why would Democrats want an even more uncooperative kind of colleague?

1. New Senators and Congressmen get entry-level committee assignments. As we have seen with health care reform’s passage (by the way, props to you on that one, POTUS) the heads and higher-ups of these committees, for better or worse, have a great deal of control and sway over what gets attention and what makes it into a bill that comes before the full legislative body, be that the House or the Senate. John McCain, for example, is the GOP Ranking Member on the Committee on Armed Services. If he loses his seat, his replacement would start out at the bottom of the totem pole there and in other groups. I’m sure Democrats wouldn’t mind everyone else moving up a rung on the ladder in his absence.

2. Victorious primary candidates farther from the center will have trouble in the general election. A moderate Democrat in a district McCain won in 2008 has a better shot against a hardcore conservative with anger management issues than someone who can make a credible case as a common sense conservative.

For context, an ABC News/Washington Post poll that showed higher than expected approval for the Tea Party in February has given way to more grounding numbers from Quinnipiac in late March. The QU poll results show only 13% of Americans say they are part of the Tea Party movement (if it can even be called that). Somewhat surprisingly, more women than men were on board.

It’s the “Snakes on a Plane” phenomenon: are the influence and numbers real or perceived? Is the Internet a harbinger of an onslaught of movie tickets or votes? Netroots buzz made the press think that they had a blockbuster on their hands. That movie was basically written by hive-minded Web commenters, but it flopped like Vlade Divac in a conference semifinal.

Most importantly for this discussion is the QU poll finding that “if there is a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat would get 36 percent to the Republican’s 25 percent, with 15 percent for the Tea Party candidate.” That level of cannibalization and erosion of the base is just going to make for more seething, dare I say, steeping, members.

It’s this same logic that got Karl Rove to cheer for Howard Dean in the streets of Washington in the run-up to the 2004 general election. True, in the end Rove didn’t need Dean. But that’s not the point. Kerry made so many bungles he now has a standing reservation at Bungalow 8.

Whatever happens in these primaries, it will be interesting to see whether the Tea Party loses sight of the big picture: they weren’t too mad (and didn’t exist) when Republicans controlled Congress. Would you rather have 50-60 moderates of your preferred party in power or 20 hardcore ones. I’ll take the former every time.

3. It’s not like current Congressional Republicans are voting in cooperation with the Democrats or Obama now. If they’re not open to voting with you anyway, what’s the point of putting together diluted bills in an attempt to get them onboard? It’s one thing to oppose a bill on sacrosanct principle, it’s quite another to show no wiggle room whatsoever to support it when you favor some elements but feel it doesn’t go far enough, or it manifests a position you held years earlier under a Republican government. After more than a year of bipartisan efforts with barely a nibble, Obama has done his best to make compromise. He’s not an ideologue, but a pragmatist, as this week’s offshore drilling announcement shows.

That said, just in case a Tea Partier makes it to Congress, let’s make sure he’s not the one member of Congress held back in a safe, undisclosed location for next year’s State of the Union. Because after a catastrophic attack, I don’t think too many citizens would want him/her to be the only elected official left in the country.

  1. I’m thinking about Tea Bagging some Dems later if you want to join in…

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