Wait there’s a war? Sure there is. It’s a fight for power and in the battle for control of the Republican Party. Principle vs politics, say tea partiers. Pragmatism vs principle, says the establishment.
Earlier this month –and it’s been a tough December for the Tea Party– the Washington Post note several GOP victories over the rebel tea partiers:
1) Roy Blunt triumphed over Ron Johnson to become the fifth-ranking guy in the Senate Republican leadership, “a race that had become a proxy battle between the Republican Party’s tea-party and establishment wings,” said the Post. Both were elected in 2010, but Blunt had spent years as Republican whip in the House –plus he married a lobbyist– while Johnson had never held public office. The Tea Party group Freedomworks demanded Johnson’s selection, and so did RedState’s Erick Erickson, but to no avail.
2) Then, Donald Trump cancelled his debate after most of the candidates showed no interest. Republican officials and conservative commentators condemned the event as a stunt.Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said it would’ve been political “malpractice” not to oppose it, even though Trump got a lot of support from more conservative voters and parlayed his birther campaign into a commentating gig at Fox News.
3) Meanwhile, the Republican establishment waged an all-our campaign to stop Newt Gingrich from being the party’s presidential nominee. Gingrich has been polling well among Tea Partiers getting 47 percent of their support in one poll, 41 percent in another. The New Yorker magazine tallied some of the toughest anti-Gingrich comments from conservatives:
—Joe Scarborough called Gingrich “a bad person” whose nomination would leave the party “ruined”
–Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said Gingrich had a “disturbing tendency: the passionate embrace of shallow ideas”
—George Will said Gingrich “embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive.”
—Glenn “On His Own Planet” Beck went further, saying he’d vote for a third party if Gingrich is nominated –and since there’s no difference between Gingrich and Obama, tea partiers who vote for Gingrich must be racist. (Hey, it’s Beck) Scarborough also threatened to vote for an independent candidate if Gingrich is nominated.
–The National Review –considered the published voice of modern conservatism– delivered a crushing takedown in an editorial warning that to nominate Gingrich would be to blow an opportunity to win back the White House.
–Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer dropped the biggest dirty word of all: Socialist. Noting that Gingrich said Mitt Romney should give back the money he made firing people as he reorganized companies for Bain Capital, Krauthammer said: “What kind of conception of capitalism do you have if you are attacking your opponent for entering what is the risk-taking of capitalism? …This kind of attack is what you’d expect from a socialist. …I think that is quite remarkable and telling, and it makes you wonder about the core ideology of Newt himself.”
And all of this comes as one tea party darling after another fades away, from Sarah Palin to Herman Cain and now, even Gingrich himself, whose polling numbers in Iowa have tanked behind –of all people– Rick Santorum.
Having watched Tea Party-backed candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell blow easy elections in 2010, the establishment isn’t going to let that happen again, and certainly not on a presidential scale.
But the final blow of the year may have been the payroll tax debate. Throughout December, Tea Party lawmakers vowed to oppose any short-term compromise bill extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance. But in the end, that’s exactly what passed, and not because of what happened, but what didn’t happen.
House Speaker John Boehner presided over a quick session, brought the compromise bill to the floor under a special procedure and asked by voice vote for unanimous consent that it be passed through the House. Any one member of Congress could’ve objected and blocked the bill. No one did.
Some members said they would have if they could’ve made it back to Washington for the session (Republicans had less than a day’s notice before Boehner pushed the bill through the House), but other members who opposed the bill easily could’ve gotten to Washington in time to block it.
But in their own conference call, Tea Party conservatives talked out the scenarios and realized that if they’d blocked the compromise and demanded a one-year extension of the tax cut, the House leadership would’ve called Congress back to Washington for a vote (not a voice vote) and the bill would’ve pass anyway.
Arizona Rep Jeff Flake said they decided it just didn’t make sense, telling NPR, “I think they realized that we had beat our chest for a week before and that no one was buying our, you know, difference between a two-month and a 12-month extension of the payroll tax cut. So what good would it do to go back and beat our chest anymore?”
Bottom line: Tea Party lawmakers compromised on their principles and caved in to politics and pragmatism.
Depending on your own politics, that’s either a big change, a big lesson or a big disappointment. Tea partiers came to Washington promising to stick to their guns, hold fast to principle and not play politics. Did they, instead, find themselves with no choice but to make deals with the devil?