WASHINGTON, October 23, 2013 — What does the fallout of the shutdown mean for the Republican establishment? Many have speculated that it means the end of the Tea Party, that Senators such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are going to be voted out next cycle, or that perhaps it is time for the Tea Party to become its own party. The prevailing theory is that now the GOP is in a civil war, and that the establishment Republicans will soon go Cambodian on the Tea Partiers and unleash a political carpet bombing campaign.
But then again, maybe, just maybe, this partial shutdown did more harm to them than it did the Tea Party.
The Republican Party has stratified thanks to the genius political maneuvers of the Democrats, most notably President Obama. While the Democrats can go about their business, establishment Republicans probably feel that they need to clean house about now. So they are turning their sites away from Democrats and on to their own people.
Somewhere, there is an evil Star Wars emperor sitting on a chair watching CNN doing a Mr. Burns style “excellent” as he watches the Republicans gear up to devour one another like good little puppets. It was a good move, and if you look at it objectively you can appreciate the political maneuvering for what it is, a brilliant move in a grand game.
But while the factions within the GOP prepare themselves for what is sure to be a “West Side Story” type rumble, it is possible that the “Establishment” may have overplayed its hand and compromised its position without even realizing it.
To the Establishment, the Tea Party is political plutonium, explosive and too hot to handle right now. They need to cut ties with it, bring it to heel, or spin it so that it seems like they are all one big happy family, which probably won’t happen. They believe that conservative voters want to see the individuals responsible for partially shutting down the government held to account. Well, things may not be as they perceive them to be.
It could be that instead of conservative voters demanding the heads of the Tea Party “rebel scum” they could be looking at the GOP Establishment in a whole new light. Instead of being seen as the sensible side of the Republican Party that worked with the Democrats and the President to re-open the government, many conservative voters feel betrayed.
They now see the Establishment Republicans for what they are, and that is the section of the Republican Party that represents business as usual in Washington, DC.
The very ideas that the Tea Party won elections on, the very ideas that the Tea Party has campaigned on, limited government and a change in Washington, are the very things the Establishment showed they wanted nothing to do with. The conservative principles which Republican voters hold dear are not reflected in the majority of GOP representatives.
What about those who agree with conservative values but voted with the Establishment?
They will have to choose sides soon in this GOP “civil war.” They will have to prove to those conservative voters that they truly do want to limit government, follow the Constitution, and balance the budget, and are not just reciting stump speeches to grab the “right leaning” vote. Or, they will have to prove to Establishment leaders and fundraisers that they can be good boys and girls and play nicely. These Senators and Representatives will have to decide whether or not they want to be part of the new school or the old school.
According to Gallup, 50 percent of those polled on October 18 were in favor of either “scaling back or repealing” Obamacare. And while partially shutting down the government may not have been the way of going about it, there is real desire and will out there among voters to see the ACA addressed with the intent of limiting it or even doing away with it.
So while Establishment Republicans believe that they did the right thing in dealing with the Democrats and turning on the Tea Party, the numbers and the polls do not suggest that they made the right move. Conservative voters could look at the deal as bad form. The problem with this is that the Establishment Republicans are touting this deal as the saving grace of the Republic. They think they are showing their base that they are willing to work with the Democrats in order to get their voices heard, and they think that caving in to the demands of the Democrats and President Obama was the way to do it. This is not the way to solidify your base in the conservative spectrum.
Now as conservative voters look at the choices they have of who to represent them in Congress they have only two options. On one hand, there is the Tea Party and the politicians who were so convinced of their righteousness that they were willing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous negative media attention to achieve their ends. They were willing, and are willing, to sacrifice their political careers for the sake of their ideals.
On the other hand, there is the Establishment Republicans who are more than comfortable with business as usual, and who decided to cut their “losses”. The problem with cutting your “losses” in this situation is that you believed that your only losses would be the credibility of the Tea Party, who have been a source of pain for the right of center Republicans. And in an attempt to silence them the Establishment gave up one of the last vestiges of hope of confronting Obama on reckless spending and confronting Obama on the ACA. Their failure to realize that the “losses” they were cutting were not those pesky Tea Party kids, but their own credibility among their voter base, may ultimately lose them the GOP “civil war.” In addition, it may ultimately swing in more meddlesome Tea Party politicians, who will after the coming storm, be the only truly conservative voice left in Congress for those Americans who feel as though the Establishment made a deal with the devil to stick around the dance.
In the end, if Republicans cannot resolve their lovers quarrel the Democrats will take advantage of the “house divided” situation and make political gains in key gubernatorial and congressional races. But if the Tea Party is smart enough to capitalize on the Establishment Republicans miscalculation, then it will be the Tea Party who emerges victorious and better positioned when this “splendid little war” has run its course.
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