The Tea Party isn’t over: Why crisis politics is here to stay
With the government reopened and a deal to avert a debt default in hand, some in Washington are sounding hopeful notes.
Surely, the thinking goes, Republicans who triggered the shutdown crisis have learned their lesson (their poll numbers have tanked and the shutdown has likely doomed their Virginia governor candidate) and will work with Democrats to avoid another trip to the brink.
Here are five reasons why that wishful thinking could turn out to be wrong.
1. The shutdown was only a failure in the real world
In the world of conservative media, which is ascendant in Republican politics right now, the only failure was on the part of GOP leadership, which they feel “caved” to President Obama and the Democrats. Matt Kibbe, president of Freedomworks told the Washington Post after the deal on Thursday, that the shutdown/debt ceiling fight could have been one if Republicans had just been willing to “fight.”
The ostensible reason for the shutdown was a Republican demand that the Affordable Care Act be defunded or at least hobbled. That didn’t happen, and so Republicans on the far right still have a political ax to grind. More importantly, opposition to the healthcare law is, as Indiana GOP congressman Luke Messer pointed out on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown this Friday, the issue that unites virtually all Republicans on the Hill. The idea that they would walk away from it, or from any tactic they think might overturn it, seems unrealistic.
In fact, Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Friday, asked if he would shut down the government or threaten default again, said he would do “anything” to stop “Obamacare.”
Eighty-seven House Republicans and 22 Senate Republicans voted for the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. Any of them could now be vulnerable to a primary challenge. Some, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham already had one. And new primaries from Tea Party candidates have been announced against Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran. Sarah Palin, a favorite of the far right, posted on her Facebook page Friday that Tea Partiers should “feel energized” because “we’re gonna shake things up in 2014.”
And RedState.com editor Erick Erickson sent out an email message to supporters Thursday naming conservative congressmen like McConnell and House leaders Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy as turncoats who should be targeted for defeat in the 2014 midterms. As the Tea Party loses support, it has also become increasingly alienated from the traditional Republican Party. So there is little incentive for the “Radical Republicans” to back down, when their motivational leaders believe a hostile takeover of the party is still possible.
4. Outside groups
Hardline organizations like Heritage Action, the Club For Growth, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and others have shown no signs of backing down on the fight both against the Affordable Care Act and so-called Republican “squishes.” These groups, with their deep pockets, effectively neutralized traditional Republican funders in big business and on Wall Street before the shutdown and they are poised to make Tea Party primary challengers financially viable. Unless the traditional groups move decisively to short up traditional, establishment conservatives, little inside the GOP will change.
5. Barack Obama
As long as he is president, and now that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have scored a decisive defeat of the hardliners, it seems unlikely that Democrats (or regular order Republicans) will be able to make peace with the Radical Republican wing. And as long as that wing effectively controls the House, and Speaker John Boehner and and the “regular order” conservatives are unable, or unwilling, to stop them, it’s likely that politics by crisis is here to stay.
One caveat: the small glimmer of hope for smoother sailing on Capitol Hill is the news, reported by NBC’s Luke Russert, that Boehner may be looking to retire in 2014. If he is headed for the sunset, and desirous of a legacy besides going down in history as the weakest speaker in modern memory, he may go all out for a budget deal that he can put in his library. And to do that, he may use the capital he gained with his far right caucus by taking them to the brink, to force through a deal this spring.
That’s a longshot possibility, but it’s likely the only glimmer of hope there is.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.