Back in April I pointed out in “The Fading Allure of the Tea Party Movement” just how much the popularity of the movement had fallen in the eyes of the American people. Well just as one would have imagined, the rancor and vitriol surrounding the debt ceiling debate has only served to drive the public image of the Tea Party movement further into negative territory, taking the Republican Party along with it for the ride as well.
Kate Zernike author of “Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America” interprets the results of the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, which deals, in part, with the Tea Party as follows:
1) “The percentage of people with an unfavorable view of the Tea Party in a New York Times/CBS Poll this week was higher than it has been since the first time the question was asked, in April 2010. Forty percent of those polled this week characterized their view as “not favorable,” compared with 18 percent in the first poll.”
2) “In the first poll, a plurality, 46 percent, said they had not heard enough about the Tea Party to have an opinion. Now, just 21 percent said they had not heard enough. The Tea Party may have benefited early on from people not really knowing exactly what it was.
3) “On Election Day, while 4 in 10 voters said they were Tea Party supporters, many might not have known what they were signing up for. The debate over the debt ceiling gave people a more concrete picture: Tea Party groups and members of the Tea Party caucus in the House and Senate…insisted that they would not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Members of the American public, meanwhile, including Tea Party supporters, were telling pollsters that they wanted compromise, not inflexibility.”
4) “Tea Party groups and lawmakers made debt reduction their priority, but many Americans said creating jobs was more important. And while many Republicans, influenced by the Tea Party, insisted that they would not allow any increases in tax revenue, a majority of Americans said debt reduction had to include higher taxes as well as lower spending.”
5) “In the most recent poll, most Americans took a negative view of the debt-ceiling negotiations, seeing them as “mostly about gaining political advantage.” With Republicans in charge of the House, more of the blame fell on them. And many people — a 43 percent plurality — saw the Tea Party as having too much influence on Republicans. But a plurality of independents, too — 40 percent — viewed the Tea Party negatively, and said it had too much influence on the Republican Party.” This same poll found that the public’s disapproval of how Congress is handling its job is at a record all time high of 82 percent. Republicans, thanks to their Tea Party affiliation took a bigger hit than did the Democrats and a far larger hit than President Obama himself.
It’s not just the pollsters and the liberal pundits who have taken aim at the Tea Party movement. Conservatives with established bona fides like David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and Michael Barone have all brought scathing criticism to bear on the movement of late. Frum in his latest, “Wake up GOP: Smashing System Doesn’t Fix It” observed: “Only about one-third of Republicans agree that cutting government spending should be the country’s top priority. Only about one-quarter of Republicans insist the budget be balanced without any tax increases. Yet that one-third and that one-quarter have come to dominate my party. That one-third and that one-quarter forced a debt standoff that could have ended in default and a second Great Recession…Unemployment is a more urgent problem than debt. The deficit is a symptom of America’s economic problems, not a cause. The time to cut is after the economy recovers. The place to cut is health care, not assistance to the unemployed and poor. We can collect more revenue without raising tax rates.”
But it is beyond these basic observations of economics that Frum puts his finger on the essential recklessness of the Tea Party movement and shows just what a threat the movement has become for not only the G.O.P. but for the American economic system as well. Again quoting Frum: “Passion does not substitute for judgment…Republicans and conservatives have worked themselves into a frenzy of rage and contempt for President Barack Obama… as if the supreme goal of policy in this time of economic hardship were to fix the blame for all problems on the president. This exercise in finger-pointing satisfies the emotions of the Republican base. It does not accurately explain the causes of the crisis or offer plausible remedies. You can’t save the system by destroying the system. In their passion, Republicans convinced themselves that the constitutional republic and the free-enterprise system were threatened as never before. Their response? To threaten to blow up the free-enterprise system and wreck the republic unless they gained their point. Republicans have become so gripped by pessimism and panic that they feel they have nothing to lose by rushing into a catastrophe now. But there is a lot to lose, and in these past weeks America nearly lost it. Let’s hope that as America steps back from the brink, Republicans remember that it’s their job to protect the system, not to smash the system in hopes of building something better from the ruins. That’s how student radicals think — not conservatives.”
Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, in analyzing the upcoming 2012 elections points out that the Tea Party has had the net effect of pushing Republicans into advocating positions, while out of office, that no president could ever hope to achieve once elected. “Most of these candidates are obviously seeking to appeal to the millions of ordinary citizens who have become active in politics over the past several years, notably in the Tea Party. That movement, as I’ve written, has on balance strengthened the Republican Party, propelling it to an impressive victory last November. But it may be weakening the Republican Party in 2012 by demanding that its presidential candidates take positions that no president could ever take… Sometime between now and the first caucuses and primaries some of these candidates may present a more serious fiscal and economic platform than any of them has so far. In the meantime it’s tempting to seek quick votes by promising the impossible and pledging to do things no president ever would.” Bruce Bartlett, former Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary under the first George Bush and a policy adviser to Ronald Reagan appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball on July 27 to discuss the degree to which our current debt crisis is a legacy of Republican administrations had this to say of the Tea Party on Capitol Hill, “I think that a good chunk of the Republican Caucus is either stupid, crazy, ignorant, or craven cowards that are desperately afraid of the Tea Party people, and rightly so.”
The observations analyzed above would lead the prudent and rational observer of American politics to suspect that the long term viability of the Tea Party movement is far from solid or certain. Having failed in preventing a rise in the debt ceiling while at the same time being out of step with public opinion on whether or not job creation is more important than debt reduction can only serve to ultimately drive the Tea Party movement further from the mainstream than it is already. Moreover, the reality of right-wing radicalism wrecking havoc inside the political process at a time of crisis is anything but reassuring to a worried nation. This in turn can only spell disaster for the movement in the next election cycle. For the Tea Party movement the debt ceiling debate may be the beginning of the end for the movement as a major force in American politics.
Steven J. Gulitti
The Fading Allure of the Tea Party Movement
Poll Shows Negative View of Tea Party on the Rise
Disapproval Rate for Congress at Record 82% After Debt Talks
Wake up GOP: Smashing system doesn’t fix it
‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ for Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Michael Barone: Chasing votes by promising to do impossible things