Why the Tea Party is taking the US to the brink

Last month Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional committee, met with party donors at the trendy Le Cirque restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Those gathered wanted to know why the party seemed captive to the far right wing Tea Party faction of the Republican movement?

“Because the Tea Party will make sure that Republicans lose their primary (contests),” he told the group.

To understand who is driving the US government shutdown it is worth analysing those behind the Tea Party and their motivation. How is it possible that a relatively small faction of the Republican Party has the power to dictate terms? Particularly given that a Gallup poll from September found that only 38 per cent of Republicans consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party – a figure which has collapsed since 2010 when 65 per cent of Republicans aligned themselves with the group.

Now there is a distinct schism among conservatives with the Tea Party, headed by the likes of 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachman and likely 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul on one side and those who have started calling themselves “reasonable Republicans”, which include 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and 2012 vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, on the other.

While the government shutdown may have come as a surprise to some, it is a strategy that has been brewing for a year now.

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III called conservatives for a meeting in November last year where a blueprint was agreed upon which would see the Republicans shut down the government unless changes were made to the Affordable Care Act, a centrepiece of Barack Obama’s legislative agenda which requires Americans to purchase health care.

Republicans were given a “tool kit” which provided them with party lines to roll out when they were blamed for not funding the government.

 “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare,” was one such suggestion.

Those Republicans who have spoken out against the strategy have been targeted by the Tea Party in attack ads – just as Walden predicted.

Senator Richard Burr, who labelled the shutdown strategy “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard”, was hit with a two-week advertising assault in his home state of North Carolina.

“What's dumb is for Richard Burr to vote to fund a government program like Obamacare that will do so much harm to North Carolina families," the ad said.

Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were also subjected to a shot across the bows by their ultra conservative colleagues.

Where the Tea Party has been successful is in mobilising grassroots supporters, something both mainstream Republicans and Democrats alike have largely failed to do.

Dozens of ginger groups have sprung up in support of the Tea Party, such as the Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Freedom Partners, Club for Growth, Generation Opportunity, Young Americans for Liberty, Heritage Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund, American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association.

This columnist spoke to or left messages for every single one of the above-named organisations but none were willing to talk. Hardly encouraging at a time when the Tea Party would argue that the thrust of their argument is not being heard or understood.

But let’s take a look at some of the organisations which, to their credit, have achieved some success.

Freedom Partners, closely tied to billionaire business brothers Charles and David Koch who helped start the Tea Party in 2009, is one of the biggest donors to Republicans. Membership requires yearly dues of at least $US100,000 ($105,925) and the organisation boasts more than 200 of those members. While it doesn’t advocate shutting down the government, it does donate to many organisations that do.

Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty are more focused on attracting young adults and small-spend, but viral, advertising campaigns that promote the defunding of Obamacare. The former was gifted $US5 million by a group linked to the Koch brothers for advertising, including an internet ad showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynaecological exam. 

Young Americans for Liberty target university campuses and FreedomWorks is behind the “Burn Your Obamacare Card” protests. 

Then there is the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group established by former Senator Jim DeMint, which says its aim is “electing true conservatives”. It established the dontfundobamacare.com website in July and has to date got more than 2 million signatures against the health care law.

Heritage Action provides a website that gives Democrats and Republicans scorecards based on their voting records. Tea Party favourite Senator Ted Cruz has a 100 per cent rating, followed by dozens of other Republicans. Little-known Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper is the highest rated from his party at 40 per cent – just 2 percentage points lower than John McCain, the man the Republicans chose to be their president in 2008. 

Heritage Action was also responsible for running internet ads against 100 Republican politicians who failed to sign a letter to House Speaker John Boehner encouraging him to defund Obamacare at any cost.

However, on Wednesday its chief executive Michael Needham softened his group’s position against allowing a potential credit default on October 17 by saying the debt ceiling should be raised regardless of whether Obamacare is defunded or not.

Overnight House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner announced that Republicans would put forward a deal that would avoid a government default on its debt – at least for another six weeks.

Perhaps he was watching the polls which showed disapproval of Republicans’ handling of the budget showdown had climbed to 70 per cent of those surveyed, up from 63 per cent a week earlier, according to The Washington Post/ABC News. Disapproval of Obama’s role remained unchanged at 51 per cent.

The Tea Party has employed a bullyboy, take-no-prisoners approach which is specifically targeting different sections of the community. The main reason that the group has been so effective however is because they are hitting politicians where it hurts the most – threatening their jobs by challenging their preselection. It seems it is not just everyday Americans who value job security.

Mathew Murphy is a Walkley Award winning journalist based in New York.

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“Because the Tea Party will make sure that Republicans lose their primary (contests),” he told the group."
Well thats a revelation isnt it. And how exactly are they to accomplish this dastardly feat? With the aid of little green men in space suits no doubt.
What you have written above is everyday knock about stuff of American and for that matter most Western style politics. Again there is nothing illegal about what is taking place.
Just because you dont agree with what is going on does not mean you have to write about it like it was some kind of conspiracy.

Agree 100% with you Paul. They are just working the system. If the Democrats don't like that well then they should just get smart and..... work the system and not try to get it changed instead.

What the Republicans are doing in congress is completely legit, if people don't like it they can show their displeasure by kicking them out in the next elections. If they don't give them a kicking then well isn't that a clear message as well?

I guess by "legit" you mean that it is within the rules. As for your follow-on remarks about the people acting if they don't like it, well the people can act at the next election if they don't like the laws the Congress has passed which give rise to the debt situation! Seeking to block Supply, or constraint the deb ceiling, is like taking a second bite at the cherry. If the laws that produce low taxes and high spending deliver an unsatisfactory financial predicament (and clearly the do), then those laws need to be changed! I suspect the Republicans much prefer to try and force Obama to do this now, on his "watch", rather than being the ones to take away the largesse when they come to power!

But is not the real problem that tax cuts, and spending programs, come into being with no exposure of the long term financial impact? The Republicans would do a greater favour to the US by bringing forward a bill to require major spending legislation to include long term projections of costs and to demonstrate how the spending will be funded. And that work needs to be undertaken or vetted by a non-party-political body. We need this in Australia too -- eg. we all see the merits of the disability scheme (for example), but we haven't seen what it will cost, and we don't know what tax increases will be required to fund it. Separating consideration of the benefits, from the funding, guarantees a problem down the track....

The last polling/commentary I saw on Republican's chances of retaining control of the House of Reps had only 11 of their 232 districts (out of 434 in the House) in danger of changing hands in 2014. Part of the reason for that is Republicans controlled enough state legislatures at the right time to draw the present district boundaries to their advantage, ie gerrymandered . At the federal level only Iowa, I'm pretty sure, has an independent body drawing-up electoral boundaries. It will be almost 10yrs before boundaries are changed again - after the next census in 2020.

Popular will of the people doesn't really come into it, it's the will of the people who can support/defeat a candidate in a primary that matters more.

I'd have thought their last election delivered a clear message. Romney won back 2 states, West Virginia and Michigan, in the electoral college yet other swing-states are more firmly Democrat than ever. Republicans have less chance of winning the presidency and control of the Senate than at any time in recent history. If that's what the Tea-Partiers and ultra-cons want, well, it's their choice.

Hi Paul.

The US has been at the brink for 5 years now...I just wish they would stop procrastinating and jump.

One day Paul you will realise that the little of what was left of democracy in the USA has now been completely sabotaged by Murdoch and Koche brothers.... and, yes, I believe blackmail is illegal.

Paul, politics would not exist without conspiracies. Australia is very similar to the USA, with political ideologies, it's just that we kept the Westminster system. The Boston Tea Part killed the Westminster system in the USA.

What happened to the country that led the world into space, protected the vulnerable, sick and needy?

Today's politics is a struggle between powerful commercial interests and the public interest. The advantage for commercial interests in the US is that the population as a whole is too dumb to see the difference. Any issue which opposes the commercial interests (tax, guns, health care) is simply rearranged as an attack on individual rights and freedoms.

Oh those poor dumb hicks. What they need is a benevolent dictatorship to try and make them smarter. Great plan and has been put in action so many times historically (wittingly or no) with some simply super results, graveyards are full of them.

The English speaking western countries have a dictator but not benevolent. His name is Rupert.

Well, you are reading and contributing to Rupert's empire.

Don, the greatest asset, any country has, is it's people. The problem with the American dream, is that it is just a dream. Me, me, me don't you dare touch my hard earned tax. The Koch brothers founded the Tea Party and their ideologies are simple - Make money any way you can and treat all those that try and tax your income as commie bastards.

Simple really, except these dudes don't give a shit about the USA, they only care about the power that wealth gives them.

It is exactly due to decades of experience that the pimps and spivs of the financial sector and the class they represent will profit handsomely from bankrupting the American government that the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and the Republicans have a strong incentive to continue with their late Sept ‘13 refusal to pass Supply.

In just the last generation, the richest 1% almost quadrupled their incomes. The average wealth of the 1% has never been so massive - 225 times bigger than the wealth of the typical household.

QE has fuelled the stock market casino and the commodity price casino like never before. Yet another financial crisis in the U.S. would force further QE because to the Rabid Right There Is Nothing Else. QE is controlled by the Fed, not by Obama. New York Fed is controlled by the CEOs of the big Wall Street firms, not by Obama’s constituents.

Recall a recent headline: “4. Buffett reaps $US10bn from GFC”. It's called private enterprise, fellas!

Imperial America is now a vassal state of the banksters. We, are a vassal state of that vassal state.

Perhaps "there are the ethical questions about whether financial market claimants should be ahead of ordinary families dependent on Federal Government payments to live."

Six years of a Global Financial Crisis has once again proved beyond any doubt that the pimps and spivs of the financial sector most certainly rank ahead of ordinary families dependent on U.S. Government payments to live.

Here, a superannuation industry that outdoes Sydney Airport Corporation or Macquarie Bank in its avarice can nevertheless rely on total support from wealthy working rent-seekers with their snouts in the trough, shielded by media business publications with columnists very willing to viciously attack public servants for carrying out even the feeblest attempt by the government of the day to slightly inhibit that plunder of public revenues.

For FY13, the top income decile will loot 32% of the $32 BILLION in tax concessions. How suddenly we forget this previously touching concern about Debt and Deficit when there is an risk that we might lose some perks.

When in due course the next financial crisis shreds the holdings of said wealthy working rent-seekers with their snouts in the trough, the said pimps and spivs of the financial sector will shrug their shoulders while putting the finishing touches to the packing of their golden parachutes.

Ambrose,

Your obvious contempt of anyone who has any wealth is really getting tiresome, in fact, insulting. You must be a very sad and envious individual.

If you don't like the way it is here, go to North Koriea, Cuba or Russia - the places you were raving on about the other day. At least they run politics consistent with your socialist beliefs, so you should be much happier.

I agree Graham, but this young lass (RAR) is obviously a first year Uni student just flexing her newly found intellect from what she has learnt, and doesn't really mean anything personal about it.

I am reassured to discover that mysogeny is not only Abbott the Hun's own practice but also Standard Operating Procedure for his Noalition cronies.

Perhaps, Stephen, pullings wings off butterflies is really more you?

Yet you are not insulted by fee-gouging, nor do you deny it. Perhaps you're a beneficiary of that pleasurable exercise?

I think RAR speaks intelligently and I think with concerning accuracy.

To make things simple for the reader, RAR is arguing that socialising private losses is criminal theft - perhaps not criminal theft in politicians law, but is in the Law of Democracy, and should be so reflected in government and central bank policy by letting those who bet their houses be the one's losing them. As it stands, the GFC has been extraordinarily profitable for the individuals instrumental in its cause; what is to stop them from gearing up another?

Very good translation Inspirator...with no biting bitterness.

You should interpret RAR's work more often

It's quite a while since pleasurable exercise.

Don't fret so RAR...

The days of affluent mindlessness are clearly near an end.

And I would like to encourage you to round some of the perpetrators up...starting with the Reserve Bank Board, who have failed this country badly.

"The Tea Party has employed a bullyboy, take-no-prisoners approach which is specifically targeting different sections of the community. "

In other words, they are doing what the political Left have been doing for the last 40 years.

You are conveniently forgetting the Long March Through The Institutions by John Howard before he lost his seat, which is one policy Abbott the Hun is actively following - as a good disciple should.

Ambrose you are just so bitter, is that your hobby, or your lifetime goal?

You refer to me, or yourself?

until I looked at the bank draft four $5896, I didnt believe that my sister had been actualy making money in there spare time on there computar.. there sisters roommate had bean doing this for under twenty two months and at present cleared the mortgage on there place and got a top of the range Mazda MX-5. important link www.jobs35.com