The Conversation

When Was the Tea Party in Control, Mr. Hume?

Fox News political analyst Brit Hume said on Sunday that with the passage of the Ryan-Murray bill, and with a blistering attack on conservative groups, Speaker of the House John Boehner proved that he had wrested control of the party away from the Tea Party: "He’s willing to take them on," Hume concluded.

But when, exactly, was the Tea Party in control of the Republican Party? Virtually all it has done since arriving on Capitol Hill has been to compromise in favor of what the GOP leadership wanted, in exchange for the promise that the leadership would deliver results. Consider the history since the 2010 elections:

  • Early 2011: Rep. Michele Bachmann mounts an effort to become the sole Tea Party member of the House GOP leadership. Amidst opposition, she withdraws from contention. No Tea Party leader is represented.
  • July-August 2011: In the debt ceiling fight, many Tea Party members agree (reluctantly) to vote for the Budget Control Act rather than holding out for "Cut, Cap, and Balance" and risk a federal default.
  • January-May 2012: The Tea Party lines up behind Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, after several "not-Romney" candidates fail to deliver and Romney is touted as the only Republican who can win.
  • December 2012-January 2013: Many Tea Party members vote for a last-minute deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff," and agree to raise taxes on top earners, accepting a deeply flawed Senate compromise bill.
  • September-October 2013: House leaders bow to conservative pressure and allow the federal government to shut down. Senate Republicans, however, have different ideas and eventually force a capitulation.

So the closest the Tea Party came to controlling anything was during the recent shutdown--and even then, they were not in control, as GOP leaders in the Senate refused to back the effort to defund (or delay) Obamacare. The idea that the Tea Party has been in control is largely a media creation, contrived to assist President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in their projections about "hostage-takers." It is to the Tea Party's discredit that it has not been able to mount a stronger internal challenge behind leaders of its own.


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