By now it is clear that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Conference in the House of Representatives represents approximately 50 members, about 1/5 of the Republican majority in the House. I don’t have the figures at hand to say what percentage of registered Republicans are Tea Partiers, but I would think that it is somewhere near the same percentage or perhaps slightly lower. By whatever measure we choose, I think the Tea Party is clearly a minority element within the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
With the current budgetary crisis and the looming debt ceiling crisis, it seems clear that the Tea Partiers who have been pushing Speaker Boehner to stick to a hard line no matter what the cost to the Republican Party and its image are pushing their party to the edge. As more and more actions sponsored by the Tea Party become the official positions of the Republican Party, it will become inevitable that the American public and the electorate will identify these positions and actions with the Republican Party.
This brings to mind the problem that the Muslim religion and Muslim-based governments have with Al Queda and the Jihadists. As long as mainstream Muslims continue to own the Jihadist movement, the Muslim religion will be identified with them. It’s the nature of the news cycle and the nature of political perceptions in this globalized world that this be so. I have long said that until Muslims who reject Jihad and Al Queda do so publicly and loudly and repeatedly, they will not be able to escape this association with the radical jihadists.
So how does this analogy apply to the situation with the Republican Party and their Tea Party wing? I would say it applies very much the same way. It is clear that the Tea Party, with blood in the water, will continue to seek to strike blows against their mortal enemy in their political jijad against President Obama and the Democrats. If the Republican Party continues to sponsor their actions, to legitimize their work as a part of the Republican Party’s work, inevitably the party will become ever more stongly associated with the Tea Party.
The Republican Party is providing political cover for the Tea Party. We know that in America the two-party system is the linchpin of its political system and its government. Third parties have a history of flash-in-the-pan notoriety followed by oblivian. If they are not later absorbed into one of the two major parties, they tend to disappear.
Unless the situation changes in an unexpected way and the Tea Party is embraced by a significant majority of the voting public, the Republican Party eventually is going to run up against this problem of over-identification with a radical element (Tea Party) that does not represent more than a small minority of the voting public (say between 10 and 15 percent) and their brand as a political party will lose support and credibility as a serious and responsible political force in the country.
I would like to think that this two-pronged crisis of the budget and the debt ceiliing will be the Waterloo of the Tea Party and that after failing to gain their apparent objetives their tide will begin to recede. That would certainly be a sign of health and maturity for not only the Republican Party but for the American political system. However, I fear that this will not be the case and that even if the Tea party’s efforts at defunding and delaying the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are a public failure leading to a loss of prestige for their movement, it will hardly mark the death of the movement.
I fear that the Tea Party and what it represents will be with us for a while and that this latest fiasco that is costing the nation so much is just a beginning of their anarchist agenda. If that is so, the Republican Party may eventually have to consider the cost of allowing the Tea Party to work within the institutional folds of the party. It will have to consider what the cost to their brand will be to continue to sponsor and support the Tea Party movement and its radical agenda.
The sanest thing for the Republican Party would be to disown the Tea Party, force them out of the party and into third-party status in order to allow the Republicans to move their party back toward the center where they may have another opportunity to elect a Republican President and gain control of the Senate, the triple crown which has eluded them for quite a while and which at present seems little more than an optimistic pipe dream.
Doing so would eliminate the threat of the Tea Party’s opposition in Republican primaries like the one Senate Majority Leader McConnell is facing next year. It would split the conservative movement perhaps and in the short run present opportunities to the Democrats, but in the long run it would allow the Republican Party to chip away at the power of the Democrats to attract moderates and even independents and to position themselves once again as a serious and responsible political force in the mainstream of American politics.
That would certainly be a better position for the Republicans to occupy than the present one that the Tea Party is occupying in the name of the Republican brand.