#Cliffgate Update: Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Tea Party?
I will admit right upfront that there is a little bit of wishful thinking in what you're about to read.
But it's only a little bit. And my realizing that it exists hasn't changed my analysis that a government shutdown could be the point that historians one day point to as the beginning of the end for the tea partiers in Congress.
I've come to this conclusion for two reasons
First, many people don't remember that the beginning of the end of Newt Gingrich's speakership began when Republicans were blamed for the two shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.
The comparison is anything but perfect. But given that Gingrich and congressional Republicans were far more popular in the mid-1990s than the tea party is today, and in light of the fact that the tea party and not House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is most likely to bear the blame if a shutdown occurs, there's a good reason to think that at least some of the TP's supporters will find themselves cursing the tea party's name very soon, especially when the shutdown begins to affect them negatively.
This group will still agree with the tea party's goals, just not with its tactics. But the tea party will alienate its more intense supporters if it moderates those tactics. Either way, at least some of its base will be lost.
Second, and far more important, there is a strong possibility that independents and marginal Democrats will be pushed away from the GOP if the tea party is blamed for the shutdown.
This will change the voting dynamic that has existed ever since the most recent redistricting, when so many congressional districts became dominated by one political party that the primary rather than the general election became the most important determinant of who went to Washington.
Energizing these additional voters will make more districts competitive and reinvigorate the value of the general election. That, in turn, will mean that at least a few tea partiers who otherwise would have been reelected will not remain in their seats. Those that remain may less willing to threaten shutdowns and defaults if those tactics are blamed for the losses.
I definitely am not suggesting that the tea party is going away any time soon because that likely won't happen until after the next redistricting in 2022. This is especially the case because so many deep crimson congressional districts exist today.
It is very possible, however, that a shutdown in 2013 will so change the way the tea party is viewed and will reduce the number of those who without exception support it that it's influence will never be as great again as it seems to be at this moment.