Political Animal


October 22, 2012 3:20 PM The Deeper Consequences of the Tea Party Movement

By Ed Kilgore

At the risk of paying too much attention to a phoned-in op-ed, I’d note Joe Scarborough’s pandering argument at Politico that the Tea Party Movement has been good for the GOP because (a) it has been associated with electoral success, and (b) it was responsible for preventing the GOP from totally caving in to Barack Obama’s agenda.

Argument (a) is at least plausible, though highly vulnerable to a post hoc ergo propter hoc objection. I’d say the 2010 results were more attributable to a terrible economy and eternal midterm election turnout patterns than to the “enthusiam” generated by town hall protests or old white folks getting dressed up in tricorner hats. Argument (b) is pretty ridiculous given the decision by the Republican congressional leadership from practically the moment of Obama’s inauguration to fight him on every front. Even on a strategic front, the post-2008 debate within the Republican Party, which lasted about fifteen minutes, produced a move-right-to-win consensus long before Santelli’s Rant launched the Tea Party Movement.

But what Scarborough fails to address at all is a consequence of the Tea Party Movement and its virtual conquest of the GOP that goes a lot deeper than tactics and strategy, or any one or two election cycles: it is in the process of all but abolishing ideological debate within the GOP, via the assertion that “conservative principles” of radically limited government and cultural counter-revolution are permanent tenets of GOP politics that are entirely impervious to circumstances. Through the rubric of “constitutional conservativism,” Tea Folk are raising their policy preferences to what can only be described as a theological level. Laissez-faire capitalism, absolute property rights, and a patriarchal view of culture and family structure are now being posited not just as “values” or as good things for American society, but as immutable, God-given guidance and the only philosophy consistent with the Constitution and the very character of the country. About the only things left to discuss within the conservative movement is foreign policy, where there is actually a division of opinion, and then how to convince the rest of the country to take its medicine and get right with God. To put it another way, ideology and even governing ideas are off the table, and in essence, party strategy has been reduced to tactics.

If I were a Republican I’d be alarmed by this development. Joe Scarborough seems not to have even noticed it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • martin on October 22, 2012 3:30 PM:

    the assertion that “conservative principles” of radically limited government and cultural counter-revolution are permanent tenets of GOP politics that are entirely impervious to circumstances.

    I don't really want to find out, but I'm willing to bet these are only "permanent tenets" until the GOP is again in charge.

  • Josef K on October 22, 2012 3:45 PM:

    though highly vulnerable to a post hoc ergo prompter hoc objection

    The finer points of both logic and Latin seem a bit beyond the Republican base these days. Hell, "Sesame Street" seems beyond them these days. This level of wishful thinking seems all they're capable of anymore.

    If I were a Republican I’d be alarmed by this development. Joe Scarborough seems not to have even noticed it.

    I wonder if Mornin' Joe will realize the danger before he's dragged off to the (I hope and pray purely metaphorical) killing fields by his fellow Conservatives. The advocacy and agenda of these idiots is starting to sound a bit like the Khmer Rouge, circa 1975.

  • Doug on October 22, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Mr. Scarborough MAY be in for a bit of a surprise, should he ever leave his little bubble. Today's GOP is nothing like what it was when Scarborough was in Congress. In Scarborough's world, money trumps EVERYTHING. Not so much in the world inhabited by the likes of Akin & Co.
    The old "Tell the base whatever it wants to hear, but ignore them once in DC" doesn't work any more. The GOP "establishment", represented by people such as Scarborough, have lost control. They just don't realize it.

  • Redleg on October 22, 2012 4:19 PM:

    Joe doesn't know Jack. He pines for a Republican party that never really existed (like the myth of "fiscal conservatism"). The Tea Party is not a principled movement to correct the waywardness of the Republicans. How can a movement be principled when it ignores empirical evidence about macro-economics, global climate change, and evolution? Hell, the Tea Party doesn't even understand what the original tea parties were about.

  • Bokonon on October 22, 2012 4:22 PM:

    It is in Joe Scarborough's interest not to notice it. Joe is serving as a full-on apologist for the excesses of his once and future political party. And he is spinning from the inside of the media system (while pretending to be impartial). Which makes this sort of junk all the more damaging.

    But that's the way the GOP rolls. You are expected to pay forward to the party's godfathers every so often.

    Good luck if you try running for elected office again in the GOP, Joe. These are the same set of angry cannibals who will barbeque you instead of welcoming you - no matter how many flower bouquets you throw their way.

  • sick-n-effin-tired on October 22, 2012 4:27 PM:

    The tea party is not the Tea Party . It is a fiction pushed and sold by Plutocrats like the Koch Brothers to further their agenda of Fuck you , we have it all and we want more.
    The rubes and mugwumps that are conned and swayed by their dog whistle racism do not constitute a party or a viable entity of politics . They only want power and are ruthless in their manipulation of the unwashed masses.

  • DJ on October 22, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Um, it's "propter hoc," not "prompter."

  • John Casey on October 22, 2012 4:34 PM:

    though highly vulnerable to a post hoc ergo prompter hoc objection

    Fair enough. But that ought to be "propter" not "prompter".

  • T2 on October 22, 2012 4:39 PM:

    the TeaParty was created as a hard pivot away from the name George W. Bush - a name now banished to the history trash can by Conservatives. But the TeaParty is Bush on steroids..huffing and puffing out it's chest while subverting the very Constitution it claims to cherish. The only thing history will record about the TeaParty is the absolute lunacy of its leaders -Palin, Bachmann, Santorum, DeMint, Ryan, Akin, and now the hapless Mormon shape-shifter Romney. And history will likely also record the absolute lunacy of 50% of Americans who decided to put them in charge of our lives.

  • SadOldVet on October 22, 2012 4:42 PM:

    Ed, in your good intentioned DLC view that most repukes are 'moderates', it probably never occured to you that The Morning Joke is a radical repuke at heart. Scarborough was the Repuknican Congressman from one of the most racist white regions of Florida. That he seems moderate on starting more wars does not change that he has a 3 hour platform on MSNBC each morning to espose repuke positions.

    I continue to believe that the TeaBaggers are nothing more than a regurgated blend of historically repuke reich wingers with a smattering of misguided 'democrats' mixed in. The reason for the existence of the Tea Parties (beyond selling the agenda of billionaires) is to provide a 'rational justification' for these repukes to pretend to not be followers of Little George Bush.

  • Mimikatz on October 22, 2012 5:25 PM:

    I wonder how much of the Tea Party will survive into the next white Presidency.

    Granted, much is just top-down manipulation by the Koch Bros and their ilk. To the extent it was "populist" it is still xenophobic and know-nothing, epitomized by the sign "Gov't keep your hands off my Medicare". If Romney wins The desire to trim the deficit will result in slashing of programs for everyone making less than $50,000 and an increase in the zero bracket, aka "broadening the tax base". Then maybe some of these people will try to squawk, but top-down groups like Americans For Prosperity and Dick Armey's group won't be there to help them.

    If Obama wins it will keep on trucking through the mid-terms, which it would behoove Dems to take seriously, then peter out in 2016, especially if Hillary doesn't run, as some of see folks die off and another cohort finds joy in Medicare, SS and Obamacare.

  • Mitch on October 22, 2012 5:29 PM:

    It's always seemed to me that the Tea Party was just another way for various puppeteers to pull the strings of the less-than-knowledgable among us. The usual Big Money Hustlers bankrolled it, would-be theocratic leaders pushed the religious buttons for insta-rage, Libertarian "thinkers" orated ad nauseum about the vitues of laissez faire.

    It wasn't any different than the usual "conservative" modus operandi (at least not at first). Feed the beast of rage, intolerance and resentment. Get the less-than-knowledgable folk all pumped up, load the metaphoric human cannonballs, then point them at the "godless librul communists" and fire away. The GOP has been doing this for decades.

    The only real differences came about because some of the sheep realized they outnumbered the shepherds, and so elected many of their own instead of the normal GOP candidates.

    What you see in the Tea Party is what the "conservative" electorate really believes. It has been kind of hidden for a long time, under the normal GOP rhetoric. And too many of our fellow citizens (Liberal, 'Moderate' or non-TP Conservatives) had no idea that such extremity is really very normal across much of the nation.

    During my youth, I heard rage from dozens of my theocratic friends/family. Not just rage towards the Left, but also toward the GOP. The "Christian Right" has been painfully aware for years that the GOP used them as warm bodies in the booths, and little more. I've heard preachers and laymen all bemoan that the GOP wasn't doing enough to stop abortion, disgrace homosexuality or enforce the idea that America is a Christian Nation.

    Also there are the Libertarian types who claim to be disgusted with the GOP's support of Big Government. Some of them are folks who have been/would be Liberals, and think that the "social freedom" of Libertarianism is a good replacement for Progressivism. But most Libertarians would really have no problem with Big Government forcing people to follow whatever social dogma they espouse. Most are theocratic bigots who feel that a laissez faire government would give them the freedom to rule in the social sphere.

    In any case, the extreme and ignorant nature of the Tea Party is very frightening to me. They have already remade much of the GOP into their image. They will continue to try and make the rest of the nation morph as well. An impassioned minority (especially one which believes it is serving God) can do great evils in a short time. And, well, they really aren't a minority by very much at all. Republicans are not the only people who should be alarmed by the Tea Party's rise. Everyone should be.

  • Mitch on October 22, 2012 5:42 PM:


    "If Romney wins The desire to trim the deficit will result in slashing of programs for everyone making less than $50,000..."

    My Republican friends have an answer for this already. Instead of social programs, the poor should learn to rely upon religious organizations to help them get by. Medieval alms for the poor in the 21st Century.

    I have heard this even from the few Republican friends of mine who are NOT theocrats. They talk about "community" coming together to help the needy.

    "It's not the government's place, it's the people's place," one said to me last week, "That's what people did in the past. Churches and neighbors take care of those in need."

    My responses:

    1.) Our government IS the people. So if something is the 'people's place' then it is by definition also the government's place.
    2.) That's a delusionally rose-colored view of the past, and ignores the facts that made Dickens go on his social crusades, and the historical suffering of the poor and elderly.
    3.) We let religious groups be the main source of "social welfare" for about 1,500 years. And it was not pleasant. Religions ALWAYS eventually decide that those who come to them for alms, must also bend knee to their dogma. And the punishment for independent thought always winds up being pain, humiliation and ulitmately death.

    Don't count on concern for the poor (even BY the poor, especially the poor, white Evangelicals who comprise much of the GOP base) ever impacting the "conservative" agenda, or the support of such voters.

  • howard on October 22, 2012 6:00 PM:

    People should know that when Santelli did his rant suggesting a "chicagoteaparty.com" that he was being fed that web address by its owner, Dick Armey's lobbying firm. Armey's firm owned and set up that and several other web addresses (bostonteaparty.com and americanteaparty.com among them) back in June of 2008, and they were waiting for the chance to attack. Santelli was just the messenger, kind of like the handful of protesters outside the Benghazi consulate who were following fellow Muslims in Cairo and 19 other cities, giving cover to the organized violence of the corporate sponsored Tea Party "movement".

    Just as icing on the cake, Santelli was ranting about a complete fabrication, that he and others were going to have to pay the mortgages of people who were in default. Never happened, unless you count the taxpayer guarantees on everything from AIG to money market (private) accounts. No help for people, but over $50 trillion of Federal Reserve (taxpayer backed) credit for corporations and outfits like the one Santelli was working for.

  • coralsea on October 22, 2012 8:13 PM:

    I posted this earlier today on Salon:

    I've been saying for some time now that I honestly think that the time has come for the two political factions in this country to begin exploring ways to achieve an amicable divorce.

    I'm not a lawyer, or constitutional scholar - but I am a pragmatist. And -face it- this marriage simply isn't working out anymore. Further, one of the partners has been resorting to abusive behavior in order to get their way.

    Time to call the lawyers before things spiral further out of control. Think of the children's welfare...

  • Area Man on October 22, 2012 9:43 PM:

    I'll add my usual objection to the idea that the Tea Party is somehow a distinct political movement or constitutes an emerging faction within the GOP. The Tea Party represents right-wing radicalism with a populist sheen, and not any set of principles or ideas that weren't already present. I'll grant that in the movement's salad days, there was a bit of a libertarian bent to it, but it didn't take long before it was assimilated by Karl Rove and Fox News, and what self-respecting libertarians were left quickly bolted. Today, Tea Party means "far-right Republican douchebag" and nothing more.

    With that out of the way, Ed's analysis is spot-on.