Monday, October 12, 2009

The Teabagger Party, Pt. II

I noted last week what looked like an ominous development for the Republicans: that the teabagger movement has started moving beyond its original premise (savaging Obama for daring to win 2008 presidential election) and has actually begun producing candidates in an attempt to move the GOP more to the right.

The example I cited was a teabagger candidate who was threatening to siphon votes away from the establishment Republican candidate in a special congressional election in New York. It seemed that it was the wrong time to empower a loud, large minority of hard-right activists at the same time the GOP was strategizing to regain some of the ground it lost in the 2006 and 2008 congressional elections.

The Politico's Alex Isenstadt writes about this dynamic today in a piece titled: "Tea partiers turn on GOP leadership".

It’s an unusual predicament for the Republican Party, since the conservative-oriented issues that animate Tea Party activists once seemed destined to make the movement a valuable auxiliary to the Republican Party.

While there’s little evidence of tea party activist support for Democratic candidates, the specific notion of electing a GOP majority hasn’t ranked high on their agenda either.


In a handful of states, tea party activists have zeroed in on House Republican incumbents and have launched primary challenges in protest of their past support for the controversial Wall Street bank bailout.


For some, supporting insurgent campaigns or waging primary bids just isn’t a strong enough signal to send to a Republican Party that has abandoned core conservative policies.

Erick Erickson, founder and editor of the influential conservative blog RedState, has urged tea party activists to “put down the protest signs” and stage takeovers of local Republican parties.
This is consistent with what I observed last week:

The teabaggers are the Club for Growth crowd on steroids, but without the smarts. The GOP unleashed them at precisely the wrong time. A loud, scary, extremist base actually producing candidates is the last thing the Republicans can afford if their goal is to fight back from a 177-seat minority in the House and a 40-seat minority in the senate.


The teabaggers constitute a vocal, know-nothing contingent with a massive sense of entitlement. They’re not fighting to regain a congressional majority. They think they are fighting to “take their country back” from MarxistFascistHitlerMuslamObama. They couldn’t care less if their presence in an election threatens to siphon votes from the establishment Republican candidate. They are True Believers, and if you ain’t for ‘em, you’re agin ‘em.

Good luck stuffing that crazy genie back into its bottle, GOP.
But Isenstadt, in focusing on the teabaggers' desire to move the Republican Party farther to the right, misses an important part of why this phenomenon could be detrimental to the GOP. The very presence of a Tea Party candidate in a tight race could siphon enough votes away from the establishment Republican candidate to throw the election to the Democrat. And this is exactly what the organizers of the movement seem to be agitating for.

“We will be a headache for anyone who believes the Constitution of the United States … isn’t to be protected,” said Dick Armey, chairman of the anti-tax and limited government advocacy group FreedomWorks, which helped plan and promote the tea parties, town hall protests and the September ‘Taxpayer March’ in Washington. “If you can’t take it seriously, we will look for places of other employment for you.”

“We’re not a partisan organization, and I think many Republicans are disappointed we are not,” added Armey, a former GOP congressman.
This threat looms as we speak in the special election in NY-23 and in the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas. There, incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln is polling behind four potential challengers from the right, including the head of the Arkansas T.E.A. Party who was three points ahead of her in a recent survey by Rasmussen.

An insurgency like that could split the Republican vote enough to allow even an unpopular Democratic incumbent to squeak past for a win.