The inconsistent — bordering on chaotic — response by the Republican leadership to last Tuesday’s defeat of veteran Washington insider Mike Castle in the Delaware Senate primary, demonstrates clearly that the GOP leaders still have no idea how to respond to the Tea Party movement sweeping the land. The Democrats, for their part, are either hunkering down in defensive mode — a la Nancy Pelosi — or flailing about trying to out-maneuver the Tea Partiers, as witnessed by President Obama’s ridiculous effort to convince voters his move to repeal the so-called “Bush tax cuts” is really a tax cut itself because he is “allowing” some lucky taxpayers to retain the current tax rates.
Trying to ridicule the Tea Party movement, which many of the Democrats and even some Republican insiders have tried to do, obviously did not and will not work. The movement simply is too broad-based and lacks clearly defined targets to shoot at. Even where Tea Party-backed candidates who have won primaries are not the brightest bulbs in the political universe, pointing this out seems only to reinvigorate their supporters and emphasize once again the gulf between inside and outside the Washington Beltway.
Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the Republican Party’s Speaker-in-waiting, voluntarily stuck his foot in his mouth last Sunday when he clearly said he would accept the Obama tax “cut” if that is the “only option” presented to him by the current majority party. The statement by Boehner confirmed that he still operates with the mindset of a traditional Washington politician willing to take crumbs from those in power because, after all, a few crumbs are better than nothing at all. Younger Republicans — such as Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor who ranks behind only Boehner in the GOP House heirarchy, and is among those who are beginning to glean the depth of voter anger at Washington politicians — quickly distanced themselves from Boehner’s gaffe. And even though Obama and the Democrats in the Congress will use Boehner’s remarks in an effort to shield themselves from criticism as the “tax-and-spend” party, whipping up on Boehner or any other of the Washington insiders wearing the GOP label, will not stanch the political blood they are loosing. In fact, by reminding Tea Partiers that this is all Washington politics, it will more likely invigorate the conservative grass roots.
The sort of political phenomena represented by the Tea Party movement do have consequences. In 1980, for example, riding the wave not so much of a broad-based political movement as a widespread personal triumph by Ronald Reagan, several newcomers were elected to the Senate and gave Reagan a majority in that body. While many of those same Senators were defeated six years later, the majority they provided Reagan in his first term allowed him to effect dramatic changes in federal spending and tax policies. It is, of course, still far too early to predict with any degree of certainty whether the GOP will re-take majorities in the House or the Senate, although the former is appearing increasingly likely. And even if many of the new crop of challengers who emerge as winners in November lack the horsepower to retain their seats in the long-run, a change in majority in either or both houses of Congress would prove extremely debilitating to Obama. The current occupant of the White House possesses neither the charm of a Ronald Reagan nor the pragmatism of a Bill Clinton; qualities necessary for a president to win a second term in such an unsettled environment.