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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You: GOP Mainstreamers Attack Tea Party

Jim DeMint, Incumbent SenatorImage via WikipediaMaybe it’s just that some of their friends lost their GOP primary races to Tea Party candidates. Maybe some good-old-boy networks are feeling the heat. Could be it’s more the changing times that are uncomfortable to some established officials.

But the complaints about the Tea Party, coming from Republican establishment figures are off the mark.

For example: Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) claimed that Sarah Palin prevented the GOP from taking control of the Senate because Tea Party candidates Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, who won their primary races, failed to defeat their Democratic opponents in the general election, although it was believed that had they not challenged other GOP candidates, the Senate seats would have ended up in the GOP column. The Hill reported:

“The Senate would be Republican today except for states [in which Palin endorsed candidates] like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware,” Bachus said at a local Chamber of Commerce event last week, the Shelby County Reporter wrote Sunday. “Sarah Palin cost us control of the Senate.” [1]
The Tea Party backed candidates on the basis of principle, which trumped some people’s idea of electability, thinking that electing a RINO (Republican in name only) is hardly better than electing a Democrat. The Tea Party is issues-oriented.

While it may be true that certain Tea Party candidates were less electable than their establishment primary opponents, the Tea Party should be given a lot of credit for the Republicans’ success in the general election. What they brought to the table was great energy and a focus on issues. Perceived RINO’s did not receive their support because they did not support the Tea Party’s issue positions, notably, small government, spending cuts, and repeal of Obamacare.
According to The Hill’s article, Bachus spoke for others in the GOP as well: “Some Republicans have privately groused that Tea Party-backed candidates who were not electable prevented the GOP from taking control of the upper chamber.” [2]
 Well, the GOP picked up enough seats to deny the Democrats anything near the 60-vote supermajority that they wanted, and now they are in a position to stop legislation they don’t want. That’s a substantial increase in power. Even though the Democrats may have lacked the full 60 votes before, they could sometimes get some Republicans to vote with them. Now (that is, starting in 2011), that will be much more difficult.

Some mainstreamers, especially those who were defeated in the primaries, will probably never have any love for the Tea Party, but the GOP is actually better off without the ones who are too timid to put up opposition to the Democrats, and are just as out of touch with voters as the Democrats are.

Senator Lindsey Graham has gone from wholesale dissing of the Tea Party movement in early July to “reaching out” to them by September.

A New York Times Magazine article of July 4, 2010, quotes Graham:

"Everything I’m doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at,” Graham said as Cato drove him to the city of Greenwood, where he was to give a commencement address at Lander University later that morning. On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was “very, very contentious,” he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: “ ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.” [3]
 He went on to predict the demise of the Tea Party movement: “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” [4]

An angry reaction by the Tea Party was forthcoming, as one might expect, as reported by The Democrat Daily:

“Lindsey Graham’s repeated public attacks on the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians like me who have participated in tea party events displays an arrogance and contempt for the views of his constituents that is beyond the pale,” says Allen Olson, chairman of the Columbia (S.C.) Tea Party. “It is among the reasons three South Carolina GOP committees from Charleston, Greenville and Lexington Counties have censured him in the past two years.” [5]
 However, Sen. Graham, while not changing his views on the issues and on working across the aisle, seemed more conciliatory in September. According to an article in The Hill, Graham met with a Tea Party group in Charleston, SC:

Graham defended himself as a mainstream conservative, and expressed worry that public officials like himself were being effectively prohibited from expressing disagreement with the party.
“If you can't accept me pushing back, then our party does have a problem. It's OK for you to push back against me, but it's OK for me to push back against you,” Graham said on WTMA radio in South Carolina, where he received a grilling over his record. “You may not like my political style of trying to find compromise on the big issues of our time, but I think it's the heart and soul of what makes America great.” [6]
 A Politico article states:
With tea party-backed candidates going down in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada, depriving Republicans of what would have been a 50-50 Senate, a bloc of prominent senators and operatives said party purists like Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had foolishly pushed nominees too conservative to win in politically competitive states. [7]
 So, the GOP is involved in a needless and possibly destructive quarrel, when they need to be united in their election victories. Where would they be today without the Tea Party? Probably where they were before the election, with citizens deeply dissatisfied with Obama’s policies, yet finding inadequate response from the GOP in Congress, mainly because of low numbers. There would be public protests, but with a lot less organized action to change things.

The Tea Party led the way to the GOP victory. They understood and shared the dissatisfaction of most Americans with Washington and found ways to make changes. To me, this is the epitome of citizenship in action. The energy they contributed was indispensable. And it should serve notice that the people still have some power. Democrats and Republicans, take notice.

And to the complaining GOP members of Congress: You will have a House majority and a much-improved Senate-seat count largely because of the energy and determination of the Tea Party. They didn’t win all their races. But they were successful enough that there shouldn’t be a lot of whining from you. Count your blessings.


[1] Jordan Fabian, “Key Republican: Palin cost us the senate,” 11/08/2010, Blog Briefing Room, The Hill.



[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert Draper, “Lindsey Graham, This Year’s Maverick,” 07/04/2010, The New York Times Magazine.



[4] Ibid.

[5] Scott Nance, “Tea Party Groups Blast Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham For Criticism In Times Profile,” 07/06/2010, The Democrat Daily.



[6] Michael O’Brien, “Sen. Graham reaches out to Tea Party,” 09/03/2010, Blog Briefing Room, The Hill.

[7] Jonathan Martin and Manu Raju, “GOP senators fight over failure,” 11/03/2010, Politico.
Photo: Portrait of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina). Public domain.
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