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.
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.
Also posted at Ryan’s Desk