For Republicans, the Tea Party giveth, and it also taketh away.
In 2010, the Tea Party helped catapult the GOP to victory in that year's midterm elections, which gave the party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and gains in the U.S. Senate. Its demand for lower spending resulted in the 2011 budget battle, which has contributed to the nation's declining deficit.
But the Tea Party also has cost the Republican Party, especially after it became front and center on the national stage. Consider:
-- Three Tea Party candidates in 2010 -- Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and Christine O'Donnell -- lost winnable Senate races, ensuring the Democrats' Senate majority.
-- Two more conservative candidates in 2012 -- Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock -- lost winnable Senate races in the red states of Missouri and Indiana, once again ensuring Democratic control of the Senate.
-- After a year-long presidential primary season, often a competition over who was the most conservative candidate, the GOP was left with a presidential nominee whose positions on immigration and social issues were out of step with battleground-state voters, according to exit polls.
-- And most recently, the Tea Party -- demanding the defunding or delay of President Barack Obama's health-care law -- has boxed in the Republican Party in this current budget fight on Capitol Hill, which has resulted in a government shutdown.
Republican leaders have pointed the finger directly at the Tea Party. "We have to do this because of the Tea Party," Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), head of the House Republicans' campaign arm, said to GOP donors in New York City last month, per the Daily Beast. "If we don't these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary."
The shutdown showdown has frustrated the more establishment parts of the Republican Party. “This is a huge distraction,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told the New York Times. “Instead of that being the conversation, we’re talking about the government shutdown, and the average citizen can’t help but say the Republican Congress isn’t helping.”
And with Obama refusing to negotiate over his health-care law (when it comes to the government shutdown or debt ceiling), even Tea Party members don't know what they want from the standoff.
"We're not going to be disrespected, so that's where we're at today where we have to get something out of this. And I don't even know what that is," Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said on Wednesday. (Stutzman walked back his remarks the next day. ("... I carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate and Speaker [John] Boehner’s work on behalf of the American people.")
Hence the political stalemate, as a CBS News poll shows a plurality of Americans, by a 44 percent to 35 percent margin, blame Republicans for the shutdown more than Democrats or President Obama.
What's more, the most recent NBC/WSJ poll found that the Tea Party was more unpopular nationally (25 percent positive, 42 percent negative) than the Republican Party (28 percent positive, 44 percent negative), the Democratic Party (40 percent positive, 38 percent negative), and Obama (45 percent positive, 42 percent negative).
In 2011, Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who co-conducts the NBC/WSJ poll, made this point about the Tea Party that seems to hold up today.
“It may be hard to understand why a person might jump off a cliff, unless you understand they’re being chased by a tiger,” McInturff said.
“That tiger is the Tea Party.”
First published October 4 2013, 8:07 AM