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May 14, 2012 1:01 PM Senate Leadership and the Tea Party

By Jonathan Bernstein

I agree with a lot of what Steve Kornacki has to say about the Tea Party and the state of the GOP this morning:

It’s not really about moving the GOP to the right; the party is already there, and has been for a while. It’s about reflexively opposing the other party on every issue, resisting compromise at all costs, and exploiting every available legislative tool to stymie the other side. This mindset is already pervasive in the House, and as the Times story shows, it’s now making its way into the Senate.

But when it comes to internal Senate governance, I’m going to disagree with him. Kornacki writes that sticking with the Tea Party “style severely constrains his ability to exercise the traditional prerogatives of a Senate leader and threatens to render him the upper chamber’s equivalent of John Boehner, who lives with the knowledge that any deal-making with the other side could spur an intraparty coup.” But Senate party leaders don’t have the influence that a Speaker has had, at least not since House reforms in the 1960s and 1970s produced strong party leadership.

The reason it’s not especially likely that McConnell would be deposed in a coup is because it just doesn’t matter all that much who the party leader is. To the extent they have much influence, it’s mostly personal, not institutional. So Jim DeMint would have no particular reason to be the Republican Leader, because he’s able to be the GOP leader without the title and the headaches that go with it.

The Senate just doesn’t work the way the House does, and the party leadership is far less important. It’s true that John Boehner is a lot more constrained than, say, Nancy Pelosi was, and it’s also true that some Senate Leaders are more influential than others. But no, “neutering” Mitch McConnell wouldn’t turn him into John Boehner.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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Comments

  • Peter C on May 14, 2012 2:47 PM:

    "This mindset is already pervasive in the House, and as the Times story shows, itís now making its way into the Senate."

    I think Kornacki has forgotten the permanent filibuster that we've seen since 1/2009. Since 2011, there has been less of a need to stop everything in the Senate, since nothing but dreck comes out of the R-controlled House, but it's not like they play nice in the Senate and not in the House. They don't play nice, period. Those few that occasionally did (Snowe and Lugar) get purged.

    Boehner wasn't neutered; he's just sorta flaccid (not a firm leader).

    [sorry, couldn't resist]