Democracy: The Journal of Ideas has a symposium on whether the old Republican/business establishment can take their party back from the Tea Party. Or, perhaps, the movement will lose steam after 2016 and we’ll more than likely have a white president again.
I haven’t read all of the articles, but at least two of them think the baggers probably will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Here is the key point: Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority—indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center—the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincers operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all Tea Party activists, sympathizers, and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics. The entire pincers operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes”—including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark.
Dave Weigel argues that the Tea Party doesn’t have to win elections, especially presidential elections, to keep the GOP hogtied.
But does the Tea Party’s clout depend on winning the nomination? Can’t it run the party just as well by commandeering its agenda and platform? The Tea Party is better at co-opting RINOs (“Republicans in Name Only”) and demanding their fealty to a certain agenda. Romney and McCain both made moves to the right to shore up conservatives. Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate was the most visible example (this was before Ryan’s advocacy for immigration reform morphed him into a RINO). But more telling was Romney’s endorsement of the 2011 “cut, cap, balance” pledge.
During the height of that year’s debt limit crisis, Tea Party and conservative groups from FreedomWorks to the Club for Growth coalesced around a plan: Any deal to raise the debt limit—pure political poison—would need to cut that year’s spending by $110 billion, cap future spending at a decreasing percentage of GDP, and force through a Balanced Budget Amendment that would require supermajority votes for any future tax increases. Romney endorsed this. Other Republicans nodded at whatever Tea Party fiscal demands were necessary to stave off primary challenges.
That’s how the conservative base runs the party. If it gets a candidate through the primaries in 2016, it would be a greater triumph. If another candidate co-opts the movement, they’ll grumble but take it. Whatever happens, their agenda can triumph in the nomination process as candidates lurch to the right. If that agenda doesn’t win the general election, its authors will know whom to blame. Somebody else.
On the other hand, Christopher Parker thinks that once there’s a white President again, even if that President is Hillary Clinton, the Tea Party will lose steam. It won’t go away entirely, but some will take their tri-corner hats and go home. See also Sean Wilentz on why the baggers are anti-Jacksonians.
Meanwhile, some elements on the Right are still flogging Third Way and the alleged war between Clinton and Warren supporters among the Dems. David Freedlander writes at Daily Beast,
For the past five years, Democrats have delighted as a civil war has raged over the soul of the Republican Party, with the establishment pummeled by a group of small-government Tea Party absolutists. …
…The first salvo in the Democratic war may have been a December 2 Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal by two leaders of the centrist think tank Third Way, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, who urged Democrats not to follow the examples of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, both of whom ran as anti-Wall Street economic populists. Cowan and Kessler called that strategy “disastrous for Democrats” beyond liberal bastions and a “fantasy-based blue-state populism.”
In Pennsylvania, John Hanger, a Democratic candidate for governor and former secretary of state’s Department of Environmental Protection, promptly called on Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the presumed frontrunner in the race, to resign as honorary co-chairwoman of Third Way. The move brought Hanger, who was previously best known for being the only candidate to support the legalization of marijuana, some much-needed attention. But Democratic strategists and activists across the country say the debate is playing out locally in ways great and small in races up and down the ballot where candidates are deciding which side of the line they are on.
If you read the rest of the article — and I don’t blame you if you don’t — Freedlander’s examples are mostly about more progressive Dem candidates beating “centrist” ones, and somebody saying this is a generational divide — the young folks who don’t remember the George McGovern wipeout are keen to move the party Left, while the older folks are more cautious.
The last claim, about a generational divide, is bullshit, IMO. It’s also bullshit that there’s a divide in the Dems that is somehow equivalent to the bagger-establishment divide in the GOP. Michael Lux writes,
However this isn’t really mainly a battle between progressives and “centrists” for the soul of the Democratic party, although there is certainly an element of that, and it is certainly understandable for reporters to talk about it in those traditional political battle terms. But what this is more fundamentally about is a battle between the biggest special interest corporations in the world, who tend to have overwhelming sway over everything in Washington, and those of us who want to confront and rein in their power.
That’s closer to it. Among those ordinary citizens who self-identify as Democrats, I see no support for Third Way’s fiscal austerity faux centrism. Third Way’s support appears to come mostly from K Street and corporations, and even from some Republicans. They don’t speak for anyone but themselves and their funders.
Update: See Thom Hartmann, Corporate Democrats freak out over Elizabeth Warren threat