The tea party may have won Republicans the House of Representatives in 2010, but in 2012, it’s looking like it could help Democrats retain the White House. Now nearly three years old, the tea party has fallen out of favor with Americans, and Democrats are prepared to use it against Republicans in this year’s elections.
A recent Fox News poll showed just 30 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the tea party, compared with 51 percent who viewed it unfavorably.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll may be more illustrative, though. It showed that Americans were more evenly split on the tea party, with 44 percent supporting it and 43 percent opposing it. But just 15 percent of Americans supported the tea party “strongly,” while many more – 26 percent – were “strongly” opposed to it.
That suggests opposition to the tea party is more strident than the tea party itself, which means the movement may be doing the GOP more harm than good.
In addition, the fervor and enthusiasm spurred by the tea party in 2010 appears to have dissipated, with no major tea party rallies taking place this year and fewer Republican candidates latching on to the label. On the presidential campaign trail, the tea party is rarely mentioned.
The tea party was mostly a blessing for Republicans in 2010. Some less-electable tea party candidates beat Republican establishment candidates in primaries and went on to defeat in the general election. But on the whole, the tea party spurred enthusiasm against President Obama and helped Republicans overcome an emerging problem with their own brand — a problem that persists. The Washington Post/ABC poll showed that just 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, a new low.
I always believed the Tea Party was simply a rebranded part of the Republican base, and that was based on my experience here locally. We didn’t have the situation I kept hearing about, where Tea Party members were organizing and running for local offices. Everyone always says “dogcatcher”. They were running for dogcatcher. Not here they weren’t.
This is an overwhelmingly Republican county, and so we have overwhelmingly Republican local government. All of those Republicans remained in office. They simply went from calling themselves “Republicans” in 2000 and 2004, to calling themselves “conservatives” in 2006 and 2008 (avoiding the term Republican) to calling themselves the Tea Party in 2010. Same people. I don’t know what they call themselves next, but I think I’ll know by June, and I’ll be sure and let you know. My hunch is it involves the phrase “small government”, although that’s a little clumsy, as a brand.
My current House member is the son of a moderate Republican House member who actually beat back a primary challenge from the Right. Grover Norquist’s DC lobbying group helicoptered into town and dropped a primary challenger into the race and created a primary. Latta won that, and went on to win in a bad year for Republicans by pretending to be a moderate, like his dad. He was a moderate Republican for about 15 minutes, and then he magically became a Tea Partier. Same person. Now the word is that the managers of the two largest employers in town (a private hospital and a manufacturing facility) are both donating to his Democratic challenger because he’s “incompetent” which I understand (perhaps cynically!) to mean he doesn’t do anything for the district.
I noticed that the Tea Party could be a powerful motivator for the opposition when I was standing at a rally to repeal Issue Two inside a Teamsters hall in Toledo and periodically and completely spontaneously the chant “fuck the Tea Party” would break out. I was able to pick up that subtle and nuanced feeling of anger from the crowd because I’m so perceptive.
However. I don’t want the Tea Party to fall out of favor with pundits, for two reasons. Pundits were, in my view, always ”the movements” most enthusiastic promoters, and I think Republicans who have to get reelected should have to wear the Tea Party they embraced like a badge. Actions should have consequences, and I’m all about taking responsibility.
GOP strategist Brian Donahue said the Democrats’ strategy is “old hat.” And because the movement isn’t front and center anymore, it won’t matter as much come election time.
We simply can’t let that happen, and not just because it’s probably unconstitutional to ignore or hide or run away from the Tea Party. These images of the Tea Party are an important part of the historical record of the Republican Party.