Is the party over for the Tea Party?
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank penned a piece Wednesday, in which he outlined recent events suggesting an atrophy of the Tea Party’s muscles in Republican circles. Here are the five developments within the past week Milbank used to make his case:
- Last Thursday: At the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible presidential candidate, scolds fellow Republicans for obsessing over cutting budgets and says, ”We’ve got to stop being the stupid party.”
- Friday afternoon: Sensing a possible national backlash, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (another likely 2016 Republican presidential hopeful) comes out against a GOP electoral college-rigging plan hatched by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder have since distanced themselves from similar legislative proposals–which many Tea Partiers endorse–in their states.
- Friday night: Word leaks out that Fox News and Tea Party hero Sarah Palin have decided to part ways after a three-year marriage. How the mighty have fallen.
- Saturday: Reports surface that House Speaker John Boehner made a speech to the Ripon Society, a Republican public policy organization, in which he called some members of his caucus “hard heads.”
- Monday: A bipartisan group if senators, including rising star (and Tea Party favorite) Marco Rubio, unveils a comprehensive immigration reform plan. The plan doesn’t focus just on enforcement, but allows for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country.
Despite signs Republicans and their supporters are growing wary about the Tea Party’s grip on the GOP, Milbank told guest host Michael Smerconish on Wednesday night’s Hardball that the Tea Party’s ultimate demise does not appear to be imminent.
“The Tea Party itself isn’t over but what I think you have is some of the more sober revelers in the Tea Party heading for the exits because they realize this thing is getting rowdy and police are going to be showing up and it’s going to get really ugly,” Milbank said. ”People who have national aspirations, who are interested in 2016, who realize the party has to change are growing a bit of bravery right now and saying, ‘we can’t continue to tolerate this.’”
Those with national aspirations have clearly disassociated themselves from some of the far right wing dogma that has overtaken the Republican party in recent years. Yet, because of redistricting, there is a decent chance the far right will remain a force in the House GOP caucus for years to come. Nate Silver delved deep into the numbers in his Five Thirty Eight blog in The New York Times last month, and estimated that because of GOP-friendly gerrymandering, there are only 35 so-called “swing districts” left in the entire country.
“What you’re seeing is that those districts, people are only afraid of a primary challenge from the right, they don’t have to fear any Democrats or Centrist Republicans,” said Salon.com’s Joan Walsh told Smerconish. ”I would love to [buy the demise of the Tea Party argument], but I think it is a little too soon. This perspective on spending that the Tea Party brought, certainly hasn’t gone away. Any time you’ve got 36 United States Senators that voted down Sandy relief a couple of days ago, you know something has fundamentally changed about the way Republicans talk about government.”
Recent numerical evidence also suggests a steep decline in in the Tea Party’s popularity. According to a CNN/ORC poll from November of 2012, the Tea Party saw its unfavorability rating jump to 50%, almost double the January 2010 number, when it was only at 26%.