The Tea Party has definitely put their money where their mouth is when it comes to their stance on raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling. If I were a member of the Tea Party caucus in Congress, after forcing John Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party to walk all the way out to the end of the plank, I would see no reason to stand down now. In fact, I would probably be inclined to think that support for my movement would only grow larger with each day that I stood my ground.
Which means the rest of the Republican Party, the one that has been around Washington long enough to become experts at saying one thing and doing another, has a really big problem. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, has been in Congress over twenty years. He has made the votes his party needed whether he wanted to or not, brought home the bacon to his district and his colleagues, and played good soldier when his party has needed solidarity in the ranks. Yet seven months after being sworn in as the leader of the House Majority party, Boehner isn’t the one driving the bus. In fact, in the coming months, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be thrown from the bus.
Legendary U.S. legislator Sam Rayburn once said: “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”
“Right now the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives is the jackass kicking down the barn, but they have absolutely no idea how to rebuild one,” Cal Jillson, a politics professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Wednesday.
The biggest failure of John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has been his inability to get through to the Tea Party caucus about the dire ramifications of a debt default, Jillson added.
“He has not been able to civilize them, he hasn’t been able to teach them to respect the traditions of the House,” Jillson said.
“He assumed he could over time, and instruct them on their responsibility as House representatives, but he’s proven unable to do it. It’s made Boehner look craven because he’s not willing to stand up before the Republican caucus and say: ‘Look, you need to grow up, you don’t understand the implications of this, and you have to follow me. I will lead us to solid ground’.”
Tuesday night while driving home I listened as Erick Erickson’s high pitched voice warbled on and on about what a liar John Boehner was, with a long and winding explanation of how six billion dollars in tax cuts House Republicans promised to deliver shrank to only one billion in actual cuts when calculated by the Congressional Budget Office. Erickson, the editor of Redstate.com, also has a nightly slot on the WSB talk radio station here in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has been lambasting Speaker Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell on an almost nightly basis for playing the same old Washington games.
If I were a member of the Tea Party rank and file, I would be pretty gung ho right now about the possibility of my movement quickly engulfing and controlling the national Republican political agenda. But the history of the GOP is littered with special interest groups and political factions whose energy and enthusiasm has been usurped by the traditional leadership of the party to achieve its own political ends. This isn’t just a battle among the elected Republican officials. It is a veritable death match between conservative thought leaders, a behind the scenes battle royal among the purveyors of competing ideological dogma to influence the future of the conservative movement.
[Cal] Jillson believes it all amounts to bad news for the Tea Party as polls suggest the majority of Americans, including that all-important bloc of independent voters, are opposed to the movement’s anti-tax stance.
He predicts the influence of the Tea Party, like other grassroots protest movements over the course of American history, will decline dramatically even as its adherents consider the movement’s debt ceiling showdown with President Barack Obama its finest hour.
He may be onto something if the thin crowd at a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill on Wednesday is any indication. Only a handful of people showed up despite the attendance of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain and conservative Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
What does this kind of intra-party conflict mean for the future leadership of the national GOP? Given the recent polling that suggests strongly the general public has no stomach for this kind of political brinkmanship, how will these recent standoffs be interpreted by the public at large? And if the unthinkable were to happen – if the nation were to be in technical default on its obligations next week, and/or the credit rating of our debt was lowered – would the Tea Party caucus be seen as the heroes for causing it to happen or the villains for forcing the United States to endure the consequences?