What Tea Party Voters Don't Understand

What Tea Party Voters Don't Understand

By Mark Salter - September 24, 2013

Tea Party voters are a pretty self-assured lot. They're 100 percent certain that if they stand by conservative principles (as they define them), scorning any compromises, a minority can rule the world.

They're also pretty good at discerning apostates. They're the keepers of the one true conservative faith. Anyone who deviates a hair from their prescribed policies -- or even expresses qualms about their political tactics -- is a traitor and a squish, which covers all but a few Republicans in Washington.

Those exceptional few are the only politicians they listen to, as they generally prefer the advice of talk radio hosts who don’t have a responsibility to govern, only to make money for themselves and their advertisers. Even the pols they respect have to be watched closely for signs of incipient complicity in the disgrace of incrementally fixing what’s wrong with government rather than burning the whole thing down and starting over.

That’s how Sen. Ted Cruz found himself in hot water with his Tea Party supporters. For weeks he had demanded House Republicans stand fast and pass legislation to fund the government only if it denied funding for Obamacare. When his like-minded lawmakers in the House forced their leadership to send the Senate a bill that would effectively kill the 2010 law, Cruz congratulated them on having the courage of their convictions. Then he promptly explained that they couldn’t expect much help from him. He’s just one guy. Harry Reid runs the Senate, and there are too few non-squishes in the Senate Republican caucus to stop Reid from doing his worst.

Predictably, Cruz’s supporters, not to mention House Republicans, were dismayed by his newfound practicality and they let him know it. So, quick as you please, he went back to doing the thing he does best, telling the Tea Party exactly what it wants to hear. According to Cruz, all that’s required to rid the country of this “terrible law” is for Senate Republicans to filibuster the very bill that Republicans in the House passed.

Obamacare might be a lousy law, but it is a law. It was passed by both houses of Congress, and signed by a president. And this president, having been comfortably re-elected last year, remains in office, veto pen at the ready. The law was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court, which has a conservative chief justice and four other conservative jurists.

Repealing it will require more than a determined minority. It will take a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, and almost certainly a Republican president. The Democrats who now control the Senate certainly won’t pass the House bill. They’ll strip all Obamacare-related provisions from it. If Senate Republicans successfully filibuster the bill, Harry Reid will let the whole thing die and the government will shut down.

It probably won’t come to that because those perfidious Republican squishes won’t let it.

Why? Because, dear bravehearts, you don’t have the numbers to prevail. You’re a minority. You’re a minority in Congress and you’re a minority in the country. A majority of Americans might tell pollsters they don’t like Obamacare, but guess what? They like the idea of shutting down government even less, as every recent survey has shown. And they’ll blame Republicans for it -- and make them pay for it.

You’ll give a needed boost to the president’s flagging popularity and diminish the Republican brand, which really can’t take much more diminishing. And you’ll delay the day when you might conceivably have the numbers to repeal Obamacare because you’ll have made it a lot harder to elect a Senate majority in 2014. But you’ll have stood by your conservative principles even to the point of sacrificing the prospects for their success.

So go ahead and follow Sarah Palin. Let’s put the Senate on Cruz control. Let’s shame those squishes to the firing line. Filibuster the bill. Let Harry Reid pull it off the Senate floor. Shut down the government. I think you’ll find the Democrats you expected to yield to the persuasive power of your kamikaze tactics are only too happy to test your resolve.

The damage a shutdown would do to the country would be less cataclysmic for the economy than refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And when you see how the country reacts to your shutdown, you might have less of an appetite for holding the debt ceiling hostage as well. You might even get an inkling that governing requires, well, governing, as best you can in a politically divided government and country, seeking advantageous compromises, picking your battles carefully, measuring your strength accurately to advance your ideals a few accomplishments at a time.

And don’t worry about Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and the handful of your fellow elected officials who tell you only what you want to hear. They’ll be fine. Your intransigence is good for their business. But you might discover, as you see how seriously your tactics have set back your progress, that it’s they, and not the Republican establishment, who’ve been playing you for suckers all along. 

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

Think Obamacare's Affordable? You're Stupid
Debra Saunders · November 18, 2014
Administration Says Working Well
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar · November 17, 2014

Mark Salter

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter