Here we go again. Extreme Tea Party voices are holding the Republican Party and Congress hostage.
Let me take you back.
Feb. 16, 2009, might have just been a typical President’s Day, but it was something much more for a young woman named Keli Carender. With a pierced nose and a job performing improv on the weekends, you might have mistaken her for the kind of person who campaigned for President Obama. But as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by looking at its cover.
In fact, Carender was so frustrated with the spending in Washington, she decided to hold a protest against what she called the “porkulus,” a day before the stimulus bill was signed into law. One hundred twenty people participated in that protest. A week later, 300 people joined, and six weeks later, 1,200 people gathered for a Tax Day rally.
This movement has become what we’ve all come to know as the Tea Party.
At that point, their intentions were what our democracy is all about. Citizens organizing for a common cause and using their right to loudly and publicly fight for principles they believed in. For them, that represented disenchantment with our growing budget deficits and a ballooning national debt. And their collective voice grew, with an assistance from reaction against Obamacare, to elect numerous candidates in the fall of 2010, further solidifying themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
Over time though, that initial movement has grown beyond its original focus.
Now, for most, the Tea Party is looked at in the prism of crazy and has pulled Republican presidential candidates so far to the right in primaries, they become unelectable in a general election.
And the one-time big tent party is now the litmus test party. If you dare to work with the president on anything, dare to even agree with him, or dare to go against their core beliefs, you’re the enemy. News flash, we’re not still fighting the American Revolutionary War.
It’s also deepened the divide in Congress, making it virtually impossible for Speaker Boehner to align Republicans against a common set of legislative priorities.
Finally, and potentially most damaging, is that at a time of key demographic and generational shifts, the Republican Party is branding itself as exclusionary and close-minded. Unfortunately this has a doubly negative effect. Not only does it push out less extreme, but historically party loyalists, it also makes the party’s platform less attractive to many fast growing constituencies.
My dad tried to speak up in the 2012 GOP debates:
Mitt Romney: Most likely, the person who should represent out party against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China.
Jon Huntsman: This nation is divided because of attitudes like that.
But the way to regain the strength of the Republican Party isn’t going to happen on its own. It will require an intensive effort. An effort refocused on ideas around our core principles, and less on political theater that only strokes a few egos.
Exclusivity, inaction, weakening the GOP. I’m all for changing the broken political system, and standing up for your beliefs, but I can’t imagine this’s what Keli Carender was hoping to accomplish on that President’s Day back in 2009.