The benefits in the House for Republicans after the 2010 election were fairly straightforward: John Boehner got the Speaker's gavel, and with it, the ability to obstruct Obama's agenda. The drawbacks weren't so obvious.
Here's a blast from the past, with some foreshadowing that was a small bit of comfort amidst the carnage in the House:
With tea party champions Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada both losing their races and Ken Buck in a race still too close to call in Colorado, the Senate remained out of Republican control even as the Democrats faced historic economic headwinds and an angry and dissatisfied public.
To be sure, Republican gains in the Senate – even if short of a takeover – were impressive. Republicans look assured of picking up at least six seats – to 47 – and perhaps seven if Mr. Buck can win his race. [He didn't – he lost to Michael Bennett.]
But the failure of Ms. O'Donnell and Ms. Angle – in races that, according to polls, mainstream Republican candidates might have won easily – showed Republicans both the benefits and drawbacks of aligning itself closely with the anti-tax, , anti-spending tea party movement.
How did that "close alignment" go? Well, let's flash forward to 2012:
Mr. Boehner began 2011 with the heady wave of victory and ended the year in disarray when the Senate forced him and his members to accept a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut. Now, he begins the second session of the 112th Congress on defense, his leadership under scrutiny and his party facing an election-year attack from the White House.
If you want to know how we got to where we are now, just take a look at the expectations from 2010 exit polling in the graphic at the top, and realize this:
Cutting the budget was never a mandate
As per the 2010 national exit poll, the top issue facing the country was the economy, just as it is now (see Gallup: Jobs and the economy a much bigger concern than deficits.) However, on congressional priorities, there was a virtual tie between cutting deficits (39%) and spending on jobs (37%). Cutting taxes lagged behind (18%.) Would you know that from the tumultuous year that followed?
What about today? [Note: pollingreport.com is a great resource for issues polls.] Polls don't phrase it as "Congressional priorities", but the latest CBS News poll from Jan 4-8 asked "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" in an open-ended fashion. The answer there was 55% jobs and the economy, and 4% budget deficit/national debt.
Sam Tanenhouse summarizes the tea party's current woes:
Of course, the Tea Party faithful also claim that theirs is a movement of ideas, in many cases the same ideas that Goldwater and Reagan espoused.
But they tend to emphasize quixotic crusades — the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which established the election of United States senators by popular vote, or Representative Ron Paul’s mission to abolish the Federal Reserve. Beyond this, “candidates who claimed the mantle of fiscal conservatism had no real plans for reducing government expenditures beyond the conservative pursuit of politics-as-warfare,” Mr. Kabaservice writes. They favor “cutting programs that benefited Democratic constituencies while preserving programs that benefited Republican constituencies and avoiding any serious reform of defense spending or middle-class entitlement programs.”
paraphrased from Sam Tanenhouse, NY Times, 1/15/2012
As another example of incoherent tea party goals, the LA Times
has a story today focusing on South Carolina:
"People want to see lower government spending, especially on the Republican side," said Karen Kedrowski, a politics professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
"But when they're asked specifically about high-dollar items, including Social Security and defense, they are not willing to accept significant cuts."
McClatchy poll 4/2011
Kedrowski's university recently polled South Carolina Republicans to ask about reducing the deficit by making cuts to government programs: 73% of voters said they weren't willing to have their current Social Security or Medicare benefits reduced to address budget concerns. More than half said they weren't willing to cut defense spending either.
Conservative priorities in governance have never been more muddled. Other than arguing for more services while lowering taxes, and resisting socialized medicine while keeping your hands off Medicare and government out of medicine, their only priority is keeping Obama from succeeding. And to illustrate that this has been a big fail all year, let me reference an April 2011 McClatchy Marist poll
Americans clearly don't want the government to cut Medicare, the government health program for the elderly, or Medicaid, the program for the poor. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted last week to drastically restructure and reduce those programs, while Obama calls for trimming their costs but leaving them essentially intact.
Voters oppose cuts to those programs by 80-18 percent. Even among conservatives, only 29 percent supported cuts, and 68 percent opposed them.
2012 therefore becomes the year where the non-majority tea party is exposed and pulled apart by its own inner contradictions (The Tea Party’s Not-So-Civil War
), and the Occupy movement occupies the political lexicon (Top Republicans join Occupy movement
For example, contrast and compare what McClatchy and other polls say the public wants (tax the millionaires) with what Romney is offering:
For another example, remember that when businessmen run as "job creators", they're lying, and it's always been a lie. In the business world, their job is to make a profit and cut costs, not create jobs. Venture capitalist (and my college roommate) Bill Frezza on NPR:
FREZZA: You know, each business is run for the benefit of its owners, its shareholders, its customers and its employees. It's not run for the benefit of the country. That's not why people run businesses.
That's true, but that kind of experience doesn't automatically qualify them for the White House. That's why Bain Capital will remain a legitimate topic of discussion through election day, without any over the top exaggeration needed, and why Romney isn't past this
, regardless of the South Carolina primary results. Winning it doesn't mean the attacks didn't work
, it only means Republican primary voters had other things on their mind.
The name of the game in 2012 will be this:
° Run against the Republican Congress that overreached, blocked and diddled while the American economy suffered. And for a road map, see Obama escalates campaign moves while dodging jabs from would-be GOP rivals:
So he’s already trying to undercut Mitt Romney , the GOP front-runner, painting him as a callous corporate raider. He’s bashing Congress, which is even more unpopular than he is in public opinion polls. He’s stocking up on cash for the coming fight — more than $2 million Wednesday evening at the three Chicago stops.
And he’s arguing, as he did ahead of the Democrats’ disastrous 2010 congressional elections, that he’s brought the economy back from the brink.
Pew Research/Washington Post, Jan 5-8, 2012
° Want tax cuts? Cutting foreign aid to France won't balance the budget. Name programs. Or, if you're Rick Perry, try and name Departments (go ahead, try.) And if it's not defense and Medicare, what is it? And will it help the middle class?
° Need revenue or debt ceiling increases? Explain why, and do it. Don't be shy about blaming either George W. Bush or Republicans for the need while you're at it. Both have gotten off way too easy. And remember, taking responsibility is a bedrock conservative principle. Apply it to them (with a sledgehammer, if needed.)
° Take pride in what the Democrats have been able to do despite purely partisan opposition (New study confirms growth rate of health care costs is slowing) and stop running away from it. Voters like certainty and confidence. See Bush v Gore.
° Understand that when the inauthentic Mitt Romney runs (he will be the nominee), he'll be tied to contradictory and unpopular conservative goals, represented by a historically unpopular Congress (see also Congress Ends 2011 With Record-Low 11% Approval) and reluctantly backed by a divided and ineffective tea party.
° Remember that while Republicans don't like your candidates, they don't like theirs, either. Now, let's be clear. They won't vote for ours. But while most conservatives find Romney acceptable, as of this writing 41% still don't. That will change when he steamrolls to the nomination, but the Republican base will never love him.
° These are the folks that will likely decide the election:
Bottom line: with their divided non-Romney (whoever it is) candidate flailing and failing, the tea party will not set the agenda this year, but Republican candidates will be forced into running hand and hand with them regardless. The economy is the only thing that makes this a close election. But it's one Obama can win
That's not how it looked in 2010.
Addendum: Bill Frezza responds:
Greg – I thank you for the compliments. In this morning’s RealClearMarkets piece “Economic Stereotypes Battle for the White House” at http://bit.ly/... I make an effort to continue to be clear and honest about what choice faces the American electorate. I will also be appearing as a guest on the C4 program this morning at 11:05am ET on WBAL to discuss. Since most of you progressives are undoubtedly sitting home on your butts today perhaps you would like to listen live at http://wbal.com/. :)