Apr 062011
 

In the fall of 2010 the Tea Party was swept into power on a wave of voter discontent promising to turn the country around by reigning in out of control government spending.  They were riding high on populist anger pushing a hard ideological line as the solution to our nation’s problems.  Five months later the Tea Party’s approval ratings have plummeted, Republican governors riding the wave have seen their support evaporate, and the oncoming government shutdown has put the ascendant Republicans in a serious bind.  Regardless of the cause of the Tea Party and GOP’s woes can be summed up in one word.

Overreach.

No one can deny the Tea Party-fueled gains of the Congressional Republicans in the 2010 elections.  They trumpeted their victory as a mandate by the voters to pursue a ultraconservative antigovernment agenda.  Yet for all the claims of strong support what the mandate they received was less clear.  A large part of their victory in 2010 was thanks to highly depressed voter turnout especially among groups that Obama depended on for his 2008 victory.  With only 41% of voters bothering to come to the polls as opposed to the low 70s that we saw in 2008 probably the clearest thing the voters did say was they had enough with government as usual.  With the certainty of victory the hard-right Tea Party candidates in Congress and state government moved forward to make the perceived mandate a reality.  Ironically enough it was putting their agenda into action that has led to a serious case of buyer’s remorse across the board.

In Congress the Tea Party, ignoring polls showing Americans’ first priority was job creation as opposed to cutting the deficit, went all ahead full with their agenda starting with the infamous forcible rape bill.  They followed up with attacks on NPR and Planned Parenthood threatening to cut off the flow of government assistance for both.  While the Culture Warriors fought personal battles at the expense of the American public the House leadership continued to thunder on high of the dangers of the growing deficit.  They demanded immediate cuts across the board regardless of their economic impact.  When questioned on the economic impact of mass federal layoffs Speaker John Boehner responded to these concerns with a blunt “So be it”.  When the Democratic-held Senate refused to play ball and roll over to the House Boehner and the House GOP doubled down on their stance of cuts, cuts, and more cuts leading to a string of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the lights on.  In spite of following their agenda to the letter the Tea Party, far from seeing their political stock rise, has recently taken hard blows to their support.  From previous highs of 50% support the Tea Party has fallen to a new low of 32% and Americans now seeing the Tea Party as being as much a part of the problem as the Democrats and Republicans.  The hard-line calls by the Tea Party for government shutdown, a course Boehner himself fears will benefit the Democrats, coupled with the refusal by ultraconservative Republicans to compromise with the Senate have largely run afoul of American popular opinion.  With strong majorities holding out for a compromise and tiny slivers supporting the white-knuckle showdown that now seems all but inevitable the Tea Party has charted a truly dangerous course for the GOP.

The recent disasters for the Tea Party are hardly confined to the Beltway.  A recent string of anti-union measures and rhetoric pushed in MichiganOhioWisconsin, and Maine have far from rallying public opinion have sparked ferocious backlash.  In Florida Governor Rick Scott’s unilateral actions and disregard for the state legislature have turned his own party against him.  In Wisconsin where the labor fight has most strongly come to a head the expected easy re-election of incumbent Republican David Prosser to the state Supreme Court has come down to a narrow margin with the challenger, virtual unknown Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, just barely ahead flipping 19 counties that went for Scott Walker in 2010.  With a storm of recalls gathering the troubles for the Wisconsin GOP, riding high on the Tea Party’s wave, have only just begun with labor increasingly agitated and energized into action across the Rust Belt.
Each of these skirmishes have helped build up what will be a game-changing showdown in Washington.  Both sides in Washington are spoiling for a political fight with each citing dearly-held principles.  Yet in spite diffuse opinion forming on impending shutdown the Tea Party is taking very serious risks.  In every one of their previous attempts to advance their cause they have been met with popular backlash and buyer’s remorse.  Their insistence during the 2010 campaign that government shutdown should not only be an option but actively sought by lawmakers has left the recentprotests to the contrary hollow and has enraged Tea Party activists calling for a firm stand in a fight where the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Far from being an effective cure for our woes some economists fear a prolonged shutdown spiraling back into a deep recession.  Beyond the economic impact is the direct effects of shutting down our federal government.  In the event of a shutdown over 800,000 federal workers would be furlough and stop receiving a paycheck, 30% of all tax refunds will remain unsent, states would face serious cuts in funding for programs like unemployment pay, and soldiers fighting overseas would continue their dangerous work without pay just to name a few.  If a last-minute budget deal cannot be reached then the Tea Party, thanks to their sound and fury, run the risk of being stuck with the blame.  They may soon discover that ideological purity doesn’t matter when the public doesn’t like what your ideology does to them.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  The United States cannot afford courting economic disaster because the most radical faction of one political party cannot put aside ideology for the sake of the public good.

Also posted at Ryan’s Desk