If the Tea Party has been weakened by the November election, why are the mainstream media expending so much effort attacking it?
The latest attempt is today’s front-page article by the New York Times, which alleges that the Tea Party is turning to “narrower” issues and suggests, none too subtly, that Congress should stop paying attention to it.
As proof, the Times offers the fact that Republican leaders “have embraced raising tax revenues in budget negotiations, repudiating a central tenet of the Tea Party.” It ignores the fact that Republican leaders could not muster the votes in the House to pass those proposals.
To the great frustration of the mainstream media and the GOP establishment alike, the Tea Party continues to hold the line against tax hikes and new bailouts. It also won a significant victory with the recent passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan.
These are not “narrower” issues: they are the most fundamental issues concerning the nation’s fiscal health and economic future. It is the Times and the liberal gentry that it serves who cling to narrow, often contrived issues such as the co-called “war on women” to maintain their political clout. The ailing, indebted Times hates the Tea Party precisely because it is serious about economic realities the left would prefer to deny.
The one kernel of truth in recent mainstream reporting on the Tea Party–a truth that Tea Party leaders themselves admit–is that the movement is discouraged by Obama’s win in November.
Mitt Romney was never the Tea Party’s first choice, and some Tea Party supporters may have stayed home on Election Day in protest, but once he secured the Republican Party’s nomination most Tea Party activists worked hard to help him win.
Michael Patrick Leahy of Breitbart News has argued that if not for independent efforts by Tea Party activists, who eschewed Project Orca-like gimmicks for more traditional shoe-leather canvassing, Romney may have done even worse. Tea Party volunteers turned out the vote for Romney in places like Roanoke, VA–where they had driven from as far away as Tennessee–while Orca crashed, leaving Romney volunteers stranded.
Disappointment at Romney’s defeat was compounded by Tea Party losses in other races. The loss of Rep. Alan West was a heavy blow, and Richard Mourdock failed to capture the Senate seat in Indiana after defeating 36-year incumbent Richard Lugar in the primary.
But establishment and moderate candidates suffered as well. The election was not a Tea Party defeat but a Democratic victory, on Obama’s expansive coattails.
The present Tea Party dilemma did not begin in November 2012 but in January 2011, when the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives excluded Tea Party members from the highest leadership positions. The Tea Party, used to opposing but not to governing, acquiesced in a faulty arrangement that allowed the Republican establishment to lead the legislative agenda, and to blame the Tea Party when it failed.
That is exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, when Speaker of the House John Boehner quashed efforts by Rep. Jim Jordan to rally support around the Tea Party’s preferred “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal in the debt ceiling debate. Boehner then signed onto an ill-fated deal that led to the present “fiscal cliff” impasse–while the Tea Party, slandered by the mainstream media as “terrorists,” bore the burden of blame.
In the Republican primary, the Tea Party struggled to find a candidate it could support. Many of its preferred candidates stayed out of the race, while those who did enter struggled to compete with Romney’s fundraising machine or withered under the scrutiny of the mainstream media. Many Tea Party activists were encouraged by Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, but he played a subdued role on the trail.
In effect, the Tea Party has provided the Republican Party’s grassroots support for the past two years but none of its leadership.
That political problem is compounded by the obstacles the Tea Party faces in the media, where it has struggled to be heard. While it was never true that the Tea Party was a Fox News creation, the network moved on to other topics after the 2010 election and the Tea Party had access to few other outlets.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media continued to bully the Tea Party. It blamed the Tea Party for the Tuscon shootings in January 2011, and never looked back, continuing to describe the movement as extremist. The media continued to promote false charges of Tea Party racism–and, later, sexism, inflating Rep. Todd Akin’s inexcusable comments about rape and abortion into a national caricature of the Tea Party and the GOP itself.
Throughout the 112th Congress, Breitbart News continued to cover the Tea Party and its successes–from Gov. Scott Walker’s fight against Wisconsin’s public unions, to the Tea Party’s victories in knocking out establishment Republicans who had strayed from their principles and their constituents. But new media voices were sidelined by the super PACs, which absorbed millions of dollars in donations yet produced little to show for it.
Despite these challenges, the Tea Party has continued to succeed. The appointment of the South’s first black Senator since Reconstruction by South Carolina’s first female governor–both Tea Party candidates–is a milestone. The success of labor reforms in “progressive” Wisconsin and union-dominated Michigan marks a sea change in US politics. And thirty governors are now Republican, thanks largely to Tea Party support.
The Tea Party’s most significant political achievement is placing the issue of spending in the spotlight, in Washington and across the nation. When even Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, feels compelled to cut spending and cut taxes, all while urging aldermen to begin paying attention to the city’s looming pension crisis, the Tea Party’s effect on the nation’s political priorities cannot be ignored.
When Barack Obama is not on the ballot, the Tea Party does very well. But Obama has provided Democrats with cohesive leadership they would otherwise have lacked–and which the decentralized Tea Party has yet to furnish.
The loose structure of competing organizations that make up the Tea Party is well-suited to the politics of opposition, but not to the task of governing. That is a challenge the Tea Party must address to survive.
In the meantime, the Tea Party has been very effective in preventing Republicans from selling out their voters and caving to Obama’s agenda, which not only includes higher taxes but new so-called “stimulus” spending. GOP incumbents who might otherwise be prepared to yield are reluctant to do so because they fear primary challenges from the Tea Party.
Boehner should be amplifying that threat, not minimizing it, because showing he has little no room to maneuver would give him an edge in negotiations with Obama.
When the debt ceiling comes up for debate again in early 2013, the Tea Party will have more clout than it did last time, despite the loss of some of its members, because of the failure of Boehner’s attempts at compromise with Obama. The Tea Party did not, in fact, call for default in 2011, but could threaten, credibly, to do so now. After all, the Tea Party has little more to fear from the mainstream media, which has already done its worst.
Above all, what is necessary is courage. The Tea Party should not despair of electoral politics because of November’s losses. It has not yet had the opportunity to lead. It has not yet begun to fight.
The principles of fiscal discipline and constitutional restraint for which it stands are still the only basis for Republican opposition, and economic survival.
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