Should Republicans Dump the Tea Party?

Zachary Taylor uncomfortably balancing atop a scale filled with acrimonious legislators.
The answer is yes, unquestionably.

Dump the Tea Party, and the Republican Party may survive; the faction that is the Tea Party will die.

As it is, the Republican Party is imploding. Yes, on the surface, with Tea Partyiers included, the GOP looks like a majority party.  But what does it matter, when a party’s members cannot agree, when they cannot accomplish anything?

The paralysis gripping the House of Representatives tells the story.  Over the past few years, Tea Party intransigence has scuttled many constructive common-sense measures enjoying the assent of moderate lawmakers.  At the Tea Party’s insistence, the House has approved countless Tea Party-centered bills that then die because they are so far out of the established mainstream.  Americans want Obamacare; they want the federal government to continue to run; and, yes, Americans would rather have federal debt than to bring a protective Union to its knees.  Yet the Tea Party has striven again and again to demolish elements of federal governance that generations of responsible lawmakers and jurists have painstaking built up.

The speaker’s contest gearing up in the House showcases the dilemma of a party that cannot control or even influence its own destructive minority wing.

Yet some of the leading figures of this do-nothing faction are now gunning for the Presidency, figures like Mario Rubio and Ted Cruz, so naïve and uncooperative (and in the case of Cruz so despised by his Republican colleagues) that they are incapable of collaborative achievement.  Out of sync with everything but their own narcissism, these candidates would make poor presidents, since they haven’t a clue as to how to marshal party power.

Dumping the Tea Party would be painful for the GOP establishment but would leave the GOP free to forge legislation with centrists on the other side of the aisle.  In terms of presidential politics, a purge would reassure moderate voters, who might respond surprisingly positively to this disinterested gesture of patriotism and good will.

The Tea Party are anti-federalists whose views, goals, and tactics jeopardize the power and integrity of United States. Cut the Tea Party adrift, and be the Grand Old Party again.

Image: “Congressional Scales” (1850),
published by the firm of Nathaniel Currier, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Click here to go to the source.

The cartoon shows President Zachary Taylor uncomfortably balanced atop a scales filled with acrimonious legislators.  He holds two controversial pieces of legislation as weights.  Political opponents in the scales taunt one another, one declaring that ‘We can hold out as long as they can’; another that ‘My patience is as inexhaustible as the federal treasury.’

The GOP’s marriage of convenience turns sour

Back in the spring of 2012, I wrote a post, Is the Republican Party Dying?, in which I surmised that the GOP, despite its already apparent fissures, was unlikely to collapse any time soon, because of the broad popularity it continued to enjoy at the state level in many parts of the country.  Now, in the wake of last week’s House vote on a bill to reopen the government, we have fresh evidence with which to assess the current condition of the party.

The GOP’s troubles appear to be growing, for, with the House vote that ended the government shutdown, the relative strength of the GOP’s intransigent right wing is clear to see.

Here is the vote count and its geographic distribution as depicted in a New York Times interactive graphic on October 17.  The yes vote (totaling 235 votes) was composed of 198 Democrats and 87 Republicans.  The no vote (totaling 144 votes) was composed entirely of Republicans unwilling to compromise, or to adhere to the advice of the moderate leadership of the party, as embodied in the House Speaker, John Boehner.

The size of the “no vote” is significant and startling, establishing that the more radical “Tea Party” element in the GOP, far from being a minority tendency as often depicted, comprises a MAJORITY of all House Republicans.  Far from being a “tail” that is “wagging the dog,” the Tea Partiers have morphed into the dog itself.  The only wonder is that they have not yet used their power to depose John Boehner–a miracle that has probably astonished the Speaker himself.

Regarding the “upcountry” character of these more radical Republican characters, the NYT map illuminates how difficult it will be to dislodge them, and why this faction so consistently overestimates its prospects for influencing the mass of the American population.  In many states where the suicide caucus lives, it enjoys a virtual monopoly.  In 12 states—including Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, and Arizona—all the Republican representatives are of the intransigent kind.

These blinkered souls believe, despite the mounting evidence of public opinion polls, that their views command the assent of the American mainstream, and they are confidently planning to extend their geographical sweep into more moderate Republican territory.  In the meantime, moderates, alarmed at the immoderation of their right wing, have begun planning to challenge them in the primaries.  The battle for control of the GOP will be hard-fought.

But for now, the rest of us have seen how dangerous and desperate political actors can be when trying to hold together a party that’s imploding.  Should we condemn John Boehner for accommodating the radicals, or be relieved that no more radical obstructionist is replacing him?  The GOP truly is a grand old party, and should its literally elephantine organization collapse, the attendant damage would be catastrophic, not just for the party, but, as we have seen, for the nation too.

Looking back on this period, historians will puzzle over the decision of the GOP to welcome this radical fringe into their party.  Even now, the traditional Republicans could recover their dominance by unceremoniously cutting the Tea Party loose.  Without the GOP’s support and legitimation, the radicals’ spell would be broken, and their national influence would evaporate overnight.

Moderate Republicans who believe that such destructive zealots are necessary to their party have forgotten about the massive bloc of disaffected voters in the center of the political spectrum, waiting for forward-looking parties and personalities to appeal to them.

Moment of Truth for GOP’s Conservative Wing

‘Be careful what you wish for’ is an old saying.  For nearly a generation, social conservatives have been pushing to reorganize American life around their strict vision of the world, an effort that has received a boost in recent years when the kindred Tea Party emerged.  The two movements, which could never have achieved majority status on their own, are poised to score a significant victory in their quest by seizing control of the Republican Party.  Moderate Republicans, who have chosen a strategy of accommodation and appeasement, are facing the destruction of their party from inside.

A minority grows bold
Conservatives are betting that their views are a majority: that’s why they are uninterested in compromise.  That’s why they’ve conducted vigorous state-level efforts to dislodge moderate Republicans from Congress, a dreaded process moderates refer to as being “primaried from the right.”  Conservatives have ousted moderates because they believe they don’t need them.  Now, with the Republican convention going on, the moderates’ position is growing more embarrassing, as their status as captives of the right becomes clearer every day.

Romney’s success in the presidential primaries should have been a caution to conservatives: a reminder that moderation is still a more more marketable quality than any of the varieties of conservatism that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Rick Santorum were peddling.  Despite the vast media attention these conservatives received, their pull at the polls proved paltry.  Yet the pull to the right is so inexorable that Romney, once nominated, felt compelled to choose a conservative running mate, when he might have been better served by choosing a seasoned moderate Republican who knows something about foreign policy.

Moderate Republicans lack a leader who can demonstrate control
There is no moderate Republican strong enough to restrain the conservative wing and demonstrate that moderates remain firmly in control.  Figures like House Speaker John Boehner have struggled unsuccessfully to marshal conservative forces and yoke them to an efficacious national agenda.  But conservatives, enjoying their power, won’t compromise.  The Republicans have become the party of ‘No.’

The party platform is a humiliation for moderates
The Republican party platform is the new humiliation—a socially retrograde document that moderates must attempt to explain away.  Virginia governor Bob McDonnell took a stab at it last night, when he tried to convince Judy Woodruff of the PBS Newshour that the party’s platform represented only ‘the grassroots’ but wasn’t really a binding statement of what all Republicans believed.  Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers also appeared on the show, disavowing Todd Akin’s comments on ‘legitimate rape’ as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘wrong’ while trying to minimize the implications of such views and the fact that many in her party harbor them.  McDonnell also tried to dismiss the objectionable planks by claiming they were ‘small issues’ and just a ‘small part’ of what Republicans believe.

As moderates’ influence wanes, chances increase that the right will destroy the GOP
Yet if these opinions are not representative of the Party, why couldn’t party leaders keep them out of the platform?  Signs of ideological strain within the GOP are mounting, again raising the question, “Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?”—a question I explored here several months ago.

The November election represents a moment of truth for conservatives and the GOP.  At that moment, we will discover whether conservatives’ assumptions are right: whether the backward-looking vision they espouse is one that a national majority cherishes, too.  And if they are wrong?  They will have destroyed the Grand Old Party in pursuit of their dreams.

RELATED ARTICLES:
S. Barsy, Bring Back The Platform, Our Polity.
S. Barsy, Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country?, Our Polity.
S. Barsy, 2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), Our Polity.
A. Nagourney, A Party of Factions Gathers, Seeking Consensus, New York Times.