iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Carl Packman

GET UPDATES FROM Carl Packman
 

Tea Party Democrats and the 2012 Elections

Posted: 08/16/2012 12:21 pm

With Romney putting to rest the rumor he would make a Latino person or a female his VP candidate, in comes Paul Ryan as the No. 2 man -- complete with Tea Party connections, a spending plan that has been described as "beyond draconian" and a recent history of fondness towards anti-democratic philosopher Ayn Rand.

Ryan has since dropped Rand, saying instead that she was a high school fling with an atheist philosophy he's now rejected. But, regardless, the Tea Party are happy. As Josh Lederman on these pages pointed out, they didn't get their man in Romney, but certainly that their ideological hero is running mate should fill them with joy.

The temptation for the Democrats now may be to hone in on Tea Party-phobia, talking down their moonbatty ways and devotion to some of the more loathesome elements of the GOP's toolbox. However, they ought not assume that the Tea Party is a Republican-only pressure group. Nor should they assume that these dividing lines necessarily reflect the perceptions of the public at large.

Back in 2011 Republicans warned voters preparing for the 2012 election that the Tea Party is a bigger tent than it actually appears.

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) made light of the fact that at least 20% of those who make up the Tea Party are Democratic voters, with another 20% being indpendent and 60% Republican.

Indeed in her own state, Gary Bosclair, a pro-life Tea Party activist and Democrat, is running a campaign against sitting Democrat Congressman Keith Ellison with graphic anti-abortion ads and an attempt to "bring America face to face with Islam."

Though Bachmann's figures are largely speculative, polling by the Winston Group suggests that 13% of Democrats are Tea Party enthusiasts. Gallup have put that figure closer to 15% and Resurgent Republic, a Republican grouping, says 11%.

While Blue Dog Democrats face an uphill struggle in the next election, there is much suspicion that Tea Party Democrats will grow in number before, during and after the next election. This has to do with three main things:

1) Barack Obama had more initial appeal than he could ever hope to maintain forever;

2) There is already a large contingent of fiscally conservative Democrat voters who will now become worried by the Democrats' attempts to oppose the rhetoric of Paul Ryan and his plans for spending;

3) The Tea Party is itself changing so as to encompass more socially progressive issues such as gay rights.

It was always a concern for the left, myself included, when Obama was wooing everyone from Francis Fukuyama to Colin Powell, Cornel West to large swathes of conservative Catholic voters -- it was an amazing vibe that could not last.

It was during the debates on Obamacare that the cracks began to appear.

When Bachmann talks about Tea Party Democrats she includes recent Democratic and Obama sympathisers who have changed their tune while he's been in power. Certainly after the TP movement was able to shift its image from racist to something exclusively economically conservative, it was able to capture a more popular appeal, not too dissimilar from how Obama was able to 2009.

The optimistic Obama bounce was always going to be temporary. He himself was a symbol of hope, but his politics were not necessarily reflective of wider US society.

For this reason a rise in appeals to populism from Democrats is no surpise.

The fact that there are fewer Blue Dog Democrats in this election does not necessarily reflect the idea that fiscal conservative Democrats will play a lesser part in the grassroots politics of the US. The velocity of the Tea Party's message on big government has undoubtedly resonated with the Democrats -- but the concern of the Tea Party's extreme right views has always been the thing to put otherwise socially liberal voters on edge.

However a significant sea-change has overcome the Tea Party recently. In a very telling comment on a new website for TEA Party Democrats, Peter Gates writes that:

Overall I felt pretty uncomfortable with what extreme right wing tea partiers stood for but if there is a way to start a group of caring Democrats who still believe in less government, well that would be something to be a part of.

For him the vetting of types like Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angles is the real imputus. Now that these divisive figures are looked at differently it could lead to a new generation of Democrat Tea Partiers.

In his new book, A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights, David Lampo notes:

A Montana Tea Party group recently kicked out one of its board members for remarks that seemingly condoned anti-gay violence ... As a Dallas Tea Party leader told [Jonathan] Rauch [a US journalist], "We do not touch on social issues. We believe the biggest danger to the country is the fiscal irresponsibility that's going on in Washington."

The Tea Party of late, whether it sits well with our prejudices or not, is changing and detoxifying in the US. And what's more, given the electorally unsatisfactory performance so far of Blue Dog Democrats, fiscal conservative Democrats will need a new political narrative.

Obama won't be able to keep them on side forever -- his politics are too different -- but the Tea Party and Democrats aren't inherently enemy. I suspect their numbers will only grow, so we should make sure to understand it and challenge it.

 
 
 

Follow Carl Packman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/carlraincoat

FOLLOW POLITICS