Nel's New Day

December 10, 2012

Tea Party May Suffer Reverses

Despite the looming “fiscal cliff,” the Tea Party that made big news last week. The 2012 election was not good for the movement. It succeeded in electing only four the 16 Senate candidates it backed. Tea Party Caucus founder Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) barely managed to survive a challenge from her Democratic opponent, and Rep. Allen West (R-FL), one of the top House fundraisers, lost. FreedomWorks’ $40 million in the 2012 cycle resulted in onlyl 25 percent success. Other Tea Party House members will be missing after December 31 this year.

Shock waves swept across the conservative community when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, resigned to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank. The senator will be long remembered for his support of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MI) after the now-failed candidate for Senate claimed that victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant and his leadership in the opposition to Obamacare.

Other DeMint positions included barring unmarried and LGBT teachers in public schools and pushing a law preventing the discussion of abortion on the Internet between patient and doctor. He also wanted to strip all federal employees of collective bargaining rights and compared striking Chicago teachers to “thugs” in the Middle East. By putting a hold on a 2010 bill to sell land near the Smithsonian Institution for the National Women’s History Museum, he blocked the entire project. His excuse was that museums already existed for “quilters” and “cowgirls.”

The Senate has a rule that one person can anonymously stop any bill from proceeding. DeMint has threatened to shut down the Senate by placing a unilateral hold on every single piece of legislation in the Senate. He also said that he would only allow bills to proceed that his office had personally approved. His megalomania didn’t stop there: last year he told Fox Business that he was willing to cause “serious disruptions” by not raising the debt ceiling to get cuts to social programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

DeMint’s actions have alienated not only the Democrats but also his own party. For the past two campaigns he supported enough Tea Party members in Senate campaigns to keep a Democratic majority in that chamber. Two years ago, DeMint’s candidates included Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Nevada’s Sharron Angle who threatened “Second Amendment remedies” if Congress didn’t change direction. All three lost their bid for the Senate.

Not satisfied with these losses, he moved on to unseat incumbents who were not “pure” enough in their conservatism, according to DeMint’s personal opinion. He broke his promise to GOP leaders to stop donating money to opponents of GOP Senate incumbents in the primaries when his personal super PAC gave $500,000 to defeat Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) in favor of far-right conservative Richard Mourdock. After Mourdock made his infamous speech about births from rape being a “gift from God,” he lost the former GOP senate seat to a Democrat, Joe Donnelly.

The Heritage Foundation will give DeMint a greater chance to meddle in GOP internal politics and provide him with a $1 million salary. Right now with $40,000 net worth he’s one of the poorest members of Congress.

The other South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham, was so surprised with the announcement that he could barely talk. The question, of course, is DeMint’s replacement. The other South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham, could barely speak about it.  Comedian Steven Colbert has offered, but Gov. Nikki Haley turned him down.

It’s not a plum position: DeMint was two years into a six-year term, and his appointed replacement will serve only two years before having to run for the next two years to finish DeMint’s term. Graham’s term is also up in two years. DeMint’s defection will benefit him because the state might not be able to find two strong candidates for Senate during the same election.

The more people have learned about the Tea Party, the less they approve of the movement. In the last two years disapproval has doubled from 25 to 50 percent while approval among voters is 21 percent. Even in DeMint’s highly conservative state, more people disapprove of the Tea Party than approve, and only 1 in 12 Republicans claim to be Tea Party supporters.

Last week saw two other blows to the Tea Party clout. One was the rapid departure of FreedomWorks leader and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) after a dispute about its future direction. Armey took an $8 million payoff and demanded that his name and photo have no connection with the organization. At the same time, Karl Rove has convinced his super PAC, Crossroads for Prosperity, to stop its ultra-conservative position and take any policy that will get GOP candidates elected. Hopefully that will result in a clash between DeMint’s pure policies and the pragmatic ones of Rove.

The same conflict will be evident in Congress. The movement was built on anti-establishment sentiment. Yet to be successful, elected officials have to operate within the establishment in order to be successful. The question is how Tea Party leaders and activists can do this without being part of what they see as the problem. An example of this is Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-TX), rising Tea Party star, who will be vice-chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, squarely in the middle of the establishment that he opposed during his candidacy.

Meanwhile Reince Preibus is struggling to maintain his leadership of the RNC. Showing his chops, he compared the U.S. president to the Italian ship captain accused of manslaughter after his cruise ship went down—without the captain.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), looked foolish when he proposed a bill to give President Obama the ability to raise the debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed, and McConnell immediately demanded that the bill have 60 votes to pass, in essence filibustering his own bill.

Now it’s a new week, and rumors abound inside the Beltway about talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Details remain private, but staff and leaders describe these discussions as “serious.”  It also might be a stalemate. Boehner has another three weeks, and Republican leaders say that they operate best with a deadline.

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