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GOP Is Blowing It by Pandering to Tea Party

21 Mar 2011
Posted by Bruce Bartlett
Reprinted from The Fiscal Times
Republicans in Congress have reached a crossroads – they must decide if they are a governing party or one so beholden to its ideological fringe that it is incapable of doing the basic work of a legislative body. How the party answers that question will determine not only the direction of policy on key issues and Republican prospects for reelection next year, but who will be president in 2013.
It is obvious that the Tea Party phenomenon has rocked Republican politics; pushing an already conservative party much further to the right and bringing into it a vast number of new members who are highly energized and deeply ideological, but very inexperienced at politics and not very knowledgeable about how Congress operates on a day-to-day basis. This has proven deeply frustrating to many veteran Republican legislators.
I have long sought a good explanation for where the Tea Party came from and the source of its intensity. Toward this end, I have been reading newly-elected Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) book, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.” He is, of course, a Tea Party favorite; son of another Tea Party favorite, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX); and someone who got elected by opposing the GOP establishment in Kentucky, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
According to Sen. Paul, much of what drives the Tea Party is sort of a delayed reaction to the disappointing presidency of George W. Bush. In a revealing passage from his book, Paul says:
Imagine this – what if there had never been a President George W. Bush, and when Bill Clinton left office he was immediately replaced with Barack Obama. Now imagine Obama had governed from 2000 to 2008 exactly as Bush did – doubling the size of government, doubling the debt, expanding federal entitlements and education, starting the Iraq war – the whole works. To make matters worse, imagine that for a portion of that time, the Democrats actually controlled all three branches of government. Would Republicans have given Obama and his party a free pass in carrying out the exact same agenda as Bush? It’s hard to imagine this being the case, given the grief Bill Clinton got from Republicans.
This argument hits close to home for me because after 30 years of working in Republican politics, including for Ronald Reagan and Rand’s father, I became deeply alienated from the party for the very reasons Rand explains. The final straw for me was the way Republicans rammed the Medicare Part D program into law in 2003. This took place at the very moment when the Medicare program was starting to seriously hemorrhage money. It was grossly irresponsible to add massively to its deficit largely for the purpose of buying re-election for Bush and his party in 2004.
This year, Medicare Part D will add about $55 billion to the deficit – far more than can be saved with all the budget cuts Republicans can possibly hope to achieve in fiscal 2011. Furthermore, it annoys me to see so many of those who voted for Medicare Part D, such as House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), treated as if they are paragons of fiscal responsibility. In fact, their concern for excessive spending is highly selective, directed almost entirely at programs supported by Democrats primarily to undercut their political support, not because they care so much about deficits.
My disgust with the GOP became so intense after the Medicare Part D debacle, I wrote a book on the subject. I thought if conservatives broke with Bush at that time and adopted a more Tea Party-like approach to getting our fiscal house in order that it might stave off the political disasters I saw looming in 2006 and 2008.
Republicans preferred to kill the messenger, leading to my permanent estrangement from both the party and the conservative movement. But perhaps my effort wasn’t entirely for naught. Apparently, one of the few readers of my book was Rand Paul, who quotes me saying this:
The point is that George W. Bush has never demonstrated any interest in shrinking the size of government. And on many occasions, he has increased government significantly. Yet if there is anything that defines conservatism in America, it is hostility to government expansion. The idea of big government conservatism, a term often used to describe Bush’s philosophy, is a contradiction in terms.
So why is it that I have been disdainful of the Tea Party from its first manifestation in early 2009? The main reason is that so many of its members simply don’t know what they are talking about; they seem to think that strong opinions are a substitute for facts, research and analysis. Consequently, many Tea Party members hold views on various topics that are, frankly, nuts, and these views have been embraced by some Republican voters as well.
For example, a March 15, 2011, poll by Public Policy Polling found that 25 percent of Republicans expect that a group called ACORN is going to steal the election for Obama next year and 31 percent aren’t sure; only 43 percent of Republicans believe this is false. In point of fact, ACORN no longer even exists, and it’s doubtful that it could have stolen a local election for dog catcher even if it wanted to.
An August 27, 2010, poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that 52 percent of Republicans believe that Obama sympathizes with Islamic fundamentalists and favors imposing Islamic law around the world; only 7 percent thought this was definitely untrue.
A March 24, 2010, Harris poll found that 67 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist, 61 percent think he wants to take away the right to own guns, 57 percent believe he is a Muslim, 45 percent say he was not born in the U.S. and has no right to be president, and 41 percent think he is just looking for an excuse to seize dictatorial power.
As a consequence, even solid conservatives like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are considered dangerous liberals. And slightly less conservative Republicans such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are treated as dangerous radicals. In a March 14 New York Times report, Utah Tea Party leader Jacqueline Smith said of Huntsman, “On a good day, he’s a socialist. On a bad day, he’s a communist.”
This sort of rhetoric serves no useful purpose and is at best distracting. It also elevates minor differences on policy or strategy among Republicans into deep disagreements over principle. This has made it impossible for Congress to finish work on the 2011 budget, which should have been done last summer. Hard line Tea Party members keep insisting on impossibly large budget cuts despite the fact that the vast bulk of the budget is effectively off limits.
Not surprisingly, a March 16 Pew poll found that Republicans are losing ground rapidly. Backing for their approach to the budget has fallen even with Republicans and Tea Party members. Support among the former has fallen from 69 percent last November to 52 percent now; among the latter it has fallen from 76 percent to 52 percent. Support among independents is down from 37 percent to 17 percent.
For these reasons, I think Republicans are blowing it. They are rapidly using up their limited political capital for getting control of the budget on trivial spending cuts, such as defunding National Public Radio, that will have no long-term impact. Furthermore, we know from experience that the public’s support for budget cuts quickly ran out in 1981, leading inevitably to tax increases. And according to a February 16 Harris poll, there is less support for spending cuts today than there was back then.
Although Republicans today are confident that they will retake the Senate and the White House next year, I think their current strategy of pandering to Tea Party extremists is undermining these hopes. Polls show Democrats up for reelection next year, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, to be rapidly improving their chances. And Republicans should remember that one reason they controlled the White House during most of the postwar era is that the American people don’t really trust either party to control the entire government. Moreover, the lousy job Republicans did when they controlled Congress and the White House from 2001 to 2006 is still a recent memory.
It’s possible that the Tea Party will turn out to be a force for good, but increasingly it looks like populist movements of the past that quickly burned out without having a lasting impact on policy. The more quickly the movement matures, learns patience, and becomes sophisticated about the nature of politics, the better its chances of having achieving its goals.
Published by permission from The Fiscal Times

NPR and Libya

One thing I noticed about the Libya issue is that the financial cost of going to war in Libya was never discussed. If these Republicans are so concerned about the deficit you would think that they would ask the Pentagon for an estimate of the cost of implementing a no-fly zone.

I read in the NYT that the NPR cut amounted to $22 million. We're probably spending that much every few hours on Libya.

Poll Numbers

"A March 24, 2010, Harris poll found that 67 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist, 61 percent think he wants to take away the right to own guns, 57 percent believe he is a Muslim, 45 percent say he was not born in the U.S. and has no right to be president, and 41 percent think he is just looking for an excuse to seize dictatorial power."

When I see numbers like this I have to wonder if people actually believe what they tell pollsters, or if their answers are calculated for effect. Perhaps I am giving the Republican base too much credit. But I think poll results like this are more reflective of the training in hypocrisy that they receive during their indoctrination than what they believe in their hearts.

Can you shay "shibboleth",

Can you shay "shibboleth", shonney?

They Absolutely Believe It

I saw Bruce's article in the Fiscal Times when it was first published on Friday. I forwarded it to a guy at work who is a hard-core Tea Party supporter. His response was that the only thing he agreed with in the article was that Americans don't trust either party. He further emphasized that there was no doubt that Obama was a socialist and a Muslim despite what Bruce said.

GOP Blowing It by Pandering to Tea Party

For a GOP politician in a predominately conservative state or house district, the most distinct threat they face to reelection is primary contest from the right. And in a sense mainstream conservatives are being hoisted on their own rhetoric, a demonizing of all Government and taxation for the last 30 years outside military adventures. Hence, how does a Republican like Orrin Hatch defend himself when Jeffrey Chaffetz runs to his right in an environment where people are hurting and looking for someone to blame and offering for the complex problems of the day a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong? (Credit to H.L. Mencken) Admittedly, there are a significant number of Republicans in the states from New England to Minnesota who may be surprised at how many Acornistas have arisen in their districts. The Senate and House could flip/flop. As for the Presidency. Well, 18 months is a long time in politics and not very much time with this fragile economy.

Big Decision

Republicans are finally going to have to decide if they are the party of plutocracy or idiocracy.

Why do they have to choose?

Why do they have to choose? The Republicans seem to have a good lock on both these blocs, which have been mutually supportive for several decades in terms of voting behavior. What I understand less is why plutocrats think that making our country look like Colombia is a good bet for them.

Third World

The Colombia comparison is interesting. Huge wealth inequality, unaccountable government, control of elections by the wealthy and corporations, low literacy rates, crumbling infrastructure, the lack of a middle class, and poor health care, these are all both defining features of a third world country and major GOP policy initiatives. The fact that one of the major political parties of the U.S. is actively working to make the U.S. just like a third world country seems to be one of the major unreported aspects of our current political debate.

Tea party goals? Who cares?

"The more quickly the movement matures, learns patience, and becomes sophisticated about the nature of politics, the better its chances of having achieving its goals."

The Tea party's goals are contrary to both the wishes of the great majority of voters and the best interests of the US. No sane person should be hoping they are ever reached. It appears that Mr. Bartlett still has some distance to traverse on his learning curve.

I agree Steve LaBonne

Steve LaBonne, you are absolutely right. No one sane wants responsible spending. No one sane wants to end bailouts. No one sane wants to control entitlements so that the programs still exist for our children and grandchildren. No one sane wants to stop QE3, QE4, QE...

People need to listen to Steve LaBonne. What we need is to tax more (I see no reason why marginal tax rates shouldn't be 100% for the billionaires who make 200k a year), tax some more (VAT on top of current income tax... but as stated above, the income tax would be revamped), spend (NPR / Harry Reid's cowboy poetry sessions, Joe Biden's personal high-speed railroad, TELEPROMPTERS!, donuts for Claire Mccaskill to eat on her fancy plane, Barney Frank's experiments with some of the largest sectors of our economy), spend some more (hey why not - it is just so easy to spend other people's money!), and then print money when we are done with that (concepts such as scarcity, dilution, and dollar devaluation is just a myth after all). So to recap Steve LaBonne, we will tax, tax, spend, print, repeat... sound good? I mean who the hell cares about our kids or grandkids... they have to fend for themselves, right?!?

Well frankfours, you've made

Well frankfours, you've made Bartlett's case for him with that litany of slogans, buzzwords, and selective, misinformed fingerblaming.


I am convinced that Bruce is responding with different names. One of my comments was not posted, and that is fine, but the zombies that follow him and defend his ridiculous and hysterical claims are just sad.

By the way, "fingerblaming" is not a word. And due to everything else being accurate (with the exception of Miss Piggy McCaskill eating donuts... I have no proof of this); you can only make hollow accusations and make up words such as "fingerblaming".

Some advice for the left or for those (BB) who carry their water: look up the word "specific" and all the derivatives of the word "specific". Then try to incorporate some specifics into your arguments... OR just keep invoking class warfare like children. Good luck.

fingerblaming is not a word.

While I disagree with his approach, Frankfourths is correct for the most part. buzzwords and talking points might be accurate, but there are no slogans and no misinformation in his post.

Bruce needs an intervention

Bruce needs an intervention or two. He can't admit to himself, yet, that the Republican Party he belonged to has transformed. He still clings to those Reagan years and can't face the fact they unleashed all this misery.

He's close to a Stockholm syndrome situation. He wants to love his captors and can't understand why they've rejected him.

Bruce Bartlett suffered from the same afflictions

BB and his cohorts in the "drown the govt in a bathtub" are themselved afflicted by the disease of knowing little and using that ignorance to push through massive changes in governance during the Reagan years. Those tactics, now used by the GOP and tea party, with a healthy dose of Faux News, has come home to roost.

People who believe in the Laffer curve down to 0 dont get to preach.

Fact is, BB or David Frum, havent given up their ideology about tiny govt, little regulation, sky high inequity, zero taxes causing sustainable growth. Until they do, it is difficult to think they are any better than the tea party.

Great post

"The main reason is that so many of its members simply don’t know what they are talking about; they seem to think that strong opinions are a substitute for facts, research and analysis."

That is outta the park, Bruce. To a "tea", so to speak. Thanks, again.

Great comment

Right outta the park. Anyone who talks about fiscal and monetary problems are just spewing hyperbole. Everything is strong from debt and equity markets to low unemployment/underemployment, to astronomical GDP, housing starts are through the roof, foreclosures are down, California and NY State are both running a massive budget surplus, a third war... things could not be better.

ignorant, uncompromising, MINORITY hypocrites

Too close to home, eh, bagger?

To go further with Bruce's eloquent description, the stupidest thing about the baggers is that believe (with those strong opinions again) that they should leading and rewriting laws. But every poll shows that they will NEVER get the majority on their side. They are lucky to get 25% of the electorate on their side. But the hypocrites will not compromise and yet still demand control.

So not only are they foolishly opinionated, but they hypocritically claim to support democracy while demanding absolute power as a minority.

Again, too stupid to even know this. Walking uncompromising, MINORITY hypocrites!!

Why is the definition of hypocrisy so difficult for idiots to understand?


Now we have a sophisticated discussion. The left always resorts to name calling... hysterical.

Can you give me examples of hypocrisy in the tea party movement? Notice I said the "tea party movement", not candidates that were supported by a particular group that claims to speak for the tea party.

Eagerly awaiting your rebuttal.

Example is in the post -

...but like a typical teabagger, you choose to filter the facts in front of you.

More name Calling from the left

More name Calling from the left - shows that you have no intellectual, philosophical, or logical support for any of your theories or ideas.... so you resort to name calling. Take a good look in the mirror my friend.

Bruce, the more you write;

Bruce, the more you write; the worse it is. You are essentially Benjamin Button, slowly regressing and becoming no better than Paul Krugman... maybe even Noam Chompsky?. Sad. If anything the GOP is blowing it by NOT listening to the tea party.

Bruce, keep up the good work!

Looks like you're doing something right! ;-)

I'm a follower

Bruce your insightful and informative pieces, all delivered in language most people can understand, are a treat to read. Keep it up.

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