Political Animal


May 01, 2013 3:50 PM The Bus Whose Passengers Don’t Mind Running Off the Road

By Ed Kilgore

At TAP, Abby Rapoport reports on a new study of the Tea Party Movement and its relationship with the Republican Party by political scientists at William & Mary, based on a large sample of FreedomWorks members, that pretty much confirms my own impressions but may come as a shock to some people who think a whole lot has changed since 2010.

Its key conclusion is that Tea Folk dominate the rank-and-file Republican Party—representing about half its members and well over half of its activist energy (and probably primary voting)—but don’t much give a damn about the GOP as anything other than as an instrument for the advancement of their very conservative ideological views (on social as well as fiscal and economic policy). So prudential arguments about the health of the party or its prospects for winning won’t get you very far. Or to put it another way, the most loyal Republican voters aren’t really loyal to the party, but to its “principles,” which they invariably define as several steps to the right of its actual positions.

The study also suggests that on a number of issues (e.g., education, the environment, and jobs) non-Tea Party Republicans are actually closer to Democrats than to their Tea Party colleagues. This is a problem for Republicans and an obvious opportunity for Democrats if they can ever figure out a way to overcome the GOP’s super-heated reflexive partnership, which unites Tea and non-Tea Republicans more than ideology.

I plan to stare at this study some more, but to those under the illusion that the Tea Party Movement is dead or very small or “moderating,” the topline results don’t look good.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on May 01, 2013 4:24 PM:

    I'll read that report later tonight.

    But it confirms the suspicions I've had ever since the Republicans reached out for these John Birchers, or Bircher wannabe's, and that's that the Republican parties politicians know that the loyalty of these folks is ideologically, and not party, oriented.

    They just LOOOOOOOVES 'em some sociopaths, but don't care what party they're from.
    At this time, it's the Republicans who most closely align with them - if Democrats turned mean and nasty, they'd vote for them.

    And that's why formerly relatively sane Republican politicians, have been pumping-up "TEH STOOOOOPID!!!" to levels never before seen.
    And they're willing to risk that they can pivot after their primaries, back to somewhere near some acceptable middle.

    If it doesn't happen organically, maybe the Democrats could somehow force a schism, and the Republican Party would splinter into it's elemental groups: the money and business people, the Jesus-freaks, the neocons, and their latest addition - the Birchers (with some cross-over, of course).

    And then the Democrats could not only could continue to win national elections, but, by somehow encouraging (even helping to fund the organization of) local 3rd-party Teabaggers, Ah Luvz Jesus folks, WAR! Troops-who-were-never-actually-troops troops, and I H8's SocialistCommies, then they can take back the states and districts, too.

    Their current politicians need the Republican Parties money, but they can't afford to lose their foot soldiers.
    And they're desperately trying to hold something together, that has no real allegiance to their party, only to its most extreme ideology.

    All I can say is, it couldn't have happened to anyone more deserving!

    But it's not way to govern a country.
    And certainly not one as well-armed as we are.

  • Ronald on May 01, 2013 4:25 PM:

    Quite an interesting analysis. Grain of salt time in that they only surveyed 'Freedom Works' members, but the general takeaways are very relvant.

    The biggest surprise, even to me, was that establishment republicans are closer to democratic positions than they are to tea party positions. And 'establishment' republicans are out number 2-1 by tea party supports in their own party.


    So right now, there's a three-party system going on- the Democrats on the left, the Republicans on the Right, and the Tea Party on the very far right.

    again: ouch.

    This was a HUGE point:
    "In other words, the Tea Party cares more about what nominees believe than whether they can win—and compromising on politics means compromising on principle."

    And this is why nothing can get done; Tea Party congressmen are going to stand on prinicipal, right or wrong, and no matter what harm it does, because, well, principle means more than winning, and means far more than compromising. (which is seen to be as bad as losing).

    For America: ouch.

    So the winning forumla for democrats seems to be pushing the tea party to keep pushing for activist candidates, then pumping out the GOTV efforts, especially in districts where the 'establishment' republican is a candidate, since the enthusiasm factor of the tea party is mitigated then. Run ads saying how much candidate X supported non tea party ideals, even if they are then republican ideals, the fact that they're 'squishy' on 'conservative principles' would then help supress tea party/mid term enthusiasm.

    Then, eventually, the general 'middle' may eventually get tired of nothing being done by Congress...something all of us on this page know far too well...and the burden for that needs to be placed cleanly, clearly, and frequently on the tea partys doorstep. They'll gladly pick up that baby and call it their own...to their own demise in the end.

    Interesting read there. Confirms a lot of what the animal's here have been talking about for months and months.

  • bleh on May 01, 2013 4:27 PM:

    Gee, gosh, that puts Republican politicians -- at least, those who haven't completely drunk the Kool-Aid -- in a TERRIBLE position. Boy, sucks to be them!

    Now let's see ... where did I put that violin? Ah yes, here, in a contact-lens case.

  • Paul Ryan's Smirk on May 01, 2013 8:50 PM:

    All of which begs the question; just how committed are lukewarm Republican voters to their habit of voting republican?

    Center left or Ultra right. Decision time boys and girls.

  • Marvin on May 02, 2013 9:20 AM:

    If this is true, then for the first time I'd really have to question the long term survival of the Republican Party. A political party's raison d'etre is electing candidates. If the party's been hijacked by ideologues bent on turning it into some kind of magisterium for its oldest, whitest, nativistic elements, well, that's suicide.

    I don't think that means a new permanent majority for the Democrats. More likely would be the emergence of a new center-right party. The two party system is a permanent feature of our politics, and if one party literally self-destructs, the system would cry out for a new party to replace it in order to maintain some kind of equilibrium, wouldn't it?

  • Cugel on May 02, 2013 9:42 AM:

    The "Tea-Party" isn't dead because it was never "alive." It was only an astro-turf group of the right-wing of the Republican party stirred up by Limbaugh and Fox News and hate of Obama & fear of Obamacare to think of themselves as "Patriots."

    This study is meaningless. My father is a Tea-Bagger extraordinaire so I know exactly who these people are.

    My father has voted for every Republican candidate he could since 1974, but has always insisted that he's an "independent conservative". When Fox News went on its Jihad against Obamacare he started going to meetings and spending all his time in social networking with other right wing extremists.

    If you mean that the right-wing of the Republican party isn't going anywhere, of course not. Any more than the left-wing of the Democrats are. They are who they always have been.

    If you mean, while they tire of wearing stupid hats and calling themselves "tea-partiers", yes. These things will go out of fashion.

    Their power and influence is simply because they have Fox News and hate-radio and the Koch brothers organizing them and telling them how they're the only "real 'Merkins."

    They're the media darlings while the Occupy Wall-Street protesters were just "dirty hippies" to be ignored by the main stream media.

    So, when pollsters poll them they find, yes the same right-wing extremists are still there. They haven't stopped being angry at all the changes they see in society - "Feminazis", "Eco-terrorists", "illegals", "rights for queers", "liberal activists", "socialist Europe" -- all the usual villains.

  • Wally on May 02, 2013 2:58 PM:

    At risk of repeating myself from another thread, a lot of right wing Republicans are simply resentful about the loss of a culture that rural Americans and their ancestors have held for 150 years. Change is happening now because of immigration into rural areas and the ubiquitous internet and these folks are fighting it.

    Rural America valued good things like community but also strengthened its communities by degrading cultural outsiders and change. This is the same the world over. But in Europe and much of Asia, ground wars or vicious authoritarian governments in the 20th century interrupted these communities and tossed them into a modern world where destruction of the community meant change was necessary.

    But here, since their were no panzers of death squads, they can engage indefinitely in a rear guard action against aspects that modern societies have adopted, e.g. equal rights, respect for other cultures, science, and a modern health system. Unfortunately, Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and others profit hugely from this.

  • karl in Minnesota on May 02, 2013 5:39 PM:

    We need facts about the extreme right. It has always been there, but for the larger part of the last century was sufficiently suppressed by the pro-business wing of the Republican Party such that it did not appear threatening. Today it is a loud minority in what is becoming a minority party. Such a situation cannot last and will fall of its own weight. In the meantime, the far right can do immense damage to the republic by forcing wrong ideas onto a passive majority. The first step is to shine a constant light on the anti-democratic ideas and activities and make the right repulsive to the majority voting in every election.