Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When you lie down with dogs

The once Grand Old Party is in trouble – as in Tea Party trouble – and it could soon get worse because of three factors:

1) A government default: House Republicans may be in the process of overreaching. Rank-and-file members, many of them elected with Tea Party support last year, seem intent on using the August 2 expiration of the debt ceiling to draw a line in the sand. If the Democrats do not agree to huge cuts without an increase in revenue (my way or the highway), they will refuse to pay our country’s debts. Many Tea Partiers say that there will be little effect on the economy – but they are misinformed. Almost $5 trillion is held by U.S. banks, U.S. pension funds, and individuals like me (such as savings bonds and Treasuries). About that same amount is held by other branches of the U.S. government itself. Only about 1/3 of U.S. debt is held by foreign countries, which includes China’s less than $1 trillion. So, who will get hurt the most if the government defaults? Americans will.

Evidently Speaker Boehner may have no choice but to go along with these ignorant Tea Partiers, since championing a compromise with the White House will inevitably prompt cries of "Treason!" These ‘true believers’ in the GOP conference could easily depose Boehner in favor of Eric Cantor, the Tea Party leader who is known to covet Boehner's post. Thus, for fear of losing his job, the potential exists for Boehner to lead the House GOP into a default on our country’s “full faith and credit” worthiness.

2) The far-right governors: This has been a surprising source of damage to the GOP brand. Newly elected Republican governors in Wisconsin (Scott Walker), Ohio (John Kasich) and Florida (Rick Scott) have all chosen to address their states' budget issues with devout, literal adherence to the Tea Party playbook. In terms of polling, the results have been catastrophic. A poll this week put Scott's approval rating at under 30 percent – and Walker and Kasich are only a few points better in their states.

Their struggles have the potential to spread across state lines. Walker's protracted fight over collective bargaining rights has been one of the biggest national stories of the past few months. Voters in and out of Wisconsin are siding with Democrats and against the Republican governor. For the national GOP, the danger is that voters across the country are seeing Walker, Kasich, and Scott not as individual state governors waging provincial fights but as how the Tea Party governs in America. 

Governors Walker and Scott both won their gubernatorial primaries last year with considerable Tea Party support. Scott, in fact, overcame a fierce effort from the party establishment to deny him the nomination. Without the Tea Party, the national Republican brand would probably not now be burdened with the public relation problems that these governors have caused. 

3) The Tea Party itself: The movement – which is really just a synonym for the Republican Party base – was a source of strength for the GOP last year in that it helped to inspire and activate previously dejected Republicans after the 2008 presidential election. It was also a liability because Tea Party activists propelled utterly unelectable candidates to GOP nominations for several important Senate and gubernatorial contests. On March 31 about 100 of its members gathered in Washington for a rally regardless of the fact that the Tea Party has become a clear liability for the GOP. In the past 12 months, the number of Americans expressing a negative view of the Tea Party movement has increased by 21 points. A CNN/Opinion Research poll found that the Tea Party is now viewed unfavorably by half of Americans. This can partly be chalked up to the negative press the movement has received thanks to the often crazy and extreme antics of its supporters. 

You can argue that all three of the above threats to the GOP label should be condensed under the Tea Party label. After all, if a shutdown does happen, it will be because Boehner was unable or unwilling to cut a deal thanks to pressure from House Republicans who were elected last year with Tea Party support or who fear the Tea Party's wrath (or both).
The Republicans made their bed – now they must lie in it. 

When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. In fact, the entire country may end up with fleas due to these Tea Party dogs.