The Political Rift: Republicans OR Tea Party?

The Political Rift: Republicans OR Tea Party?

The Republican base is not the Tea Party base. Why the Tea Party needs to go it alone.


When the Tea Party initially picked up steam as a political movement in 2008 (and shortly before, in response to Bush's bailouts), the Republican Party was quick to coopt it. Tea Partiers advocated for smaller government, which had been on the Republican plate before, and many of them came from previously Republican backgrounds; it wasn't a difficult stretch. However, it was a concerted effort to harness political capital at a time when elections were imminent and a Republican majority in the House seemed probable.

     Well, now we see the inherent problem in two parties attempting to exist under one flag. With the debt ceiling negotiations and fallout from left and right over budget plans, it has become very clear that the Republican Party and the Tea Party can be mutually exclusive. This is only too real to centrist Republican leaders in the House, like John Boehner, who has continually been bullied and boxed in by junior members of his own party. Boehner's recent attempt at a budget plan was vehemently attacked by Republican legislators in the so-called Cut, Cap, and Balance Coalition. Signed by 51 Republican lawmakers (12 senators and 39 representatives), the coalition seeks at least $111 billion in cuts for the fiscal year of 2012, as well as a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. However, Boehner's plan made no mention of a constitutional amendment (primarily because it would be very literally impossible) and only cut $7 billion in 2012. Tea Party members attacked the plan and unilaterally attempted to defeat it, which rose the ire of their fellow party members. In fact, today John McCain publicly attacked the junior Tea Party members for being "unfair", "bizarre", and "deceitful".

     In addition, organizations that have a vested interest in keeping the U.S. out of default (i.e. all of us) are putting pressure on Republican leaders to figure out a solution. Despite that, Tea Party Republicans are resisting any efforts to raise tax revenues, or that don't "adequately" cut spending. Tea Partiers, having largely been elected through the popular movement, are not as closely tied to corporations and special interests, and so aren't swayed by these demands. However, more mainstream republicans that depend heavily on corporate and special interest dollars for reelection are feeling the pressure. The National Association of Manufacturers, a Republican-leaning special interest, according to Huffington Post, recently made a statement demanding that House Republicans raise the debt ceiling; no tax cuts, not spending cuts, no ultimatum. Raise the debt ceiling. Period. This despite the fact that Tea Party Republicans are busy staging protests and attacking Boehner's watered-down budget plan.

     The Tea Party is not the same as the Republican Party; and though they share a belief in limited government, the Republican Party doesn't actually want more limited government where as the Tea Party's idea of limited government is closer to the Libertarians than the Republicans. However, Tea Partiers also seem to promote a kind of social conservatism taken a la carte from Republican they're not really Libertarian either. Whatever the outcome of the present debate, it's essential that the Tea Party no longer allow itself to be cooped by the Republicans. It makes diplomacy in this binary political environment far too difficult, grinding our political process to a stand-still rather than allowing for greater popular representation. I've always advocated for a three-party system (or even more) and if the Tea Party believes they have the popular support to promote their specific (albeit strange and often impractical) agendas, then they need to stop riding republican coat tails.