The leader of the same tea party group that backed dark horses Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller for Senate in 2010 says they might be a little more selective next time around -- and that tea partiers’ defiant cries of “cut it or shut it” about the looming government shutdown are “just not realistic.”
Speaking to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Tuesday, Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer gave several indications that the powerhouse fundraising group has undergone a dramatic shift from idealism to pragmatism.
When it comes to the federal budget and the possibility of a government shutdown, Kremer took a different line than other tea party groups. While the Tea Party Patriots and Americans for Prosperity are holding fast to their $61 billion budget-cut benchmark, Kremer said that though it’s important for tea party legislators to “do what they said they were going to do,” now that they’re down to the wire “you can’t just sit here and do absolutely nothing and shut the government down."
“You’re going to have those purists, those hard-liners, who say, ‘Shut down the government and cut everything.’ But that’s not practical. That’s not being realistic,” she said. “So we have some tough decisions to make.”
Kremer said that while the budget proposal announced on Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., drew some concern from her group for failing to balance the budget in 10 years, “they’re happy that it’s at least taking some steps to go in that direction.”
The ongoing budget war isn’t the only area where the Tea Party Express seems to have relented. Known for endorsing candidates loyal to their tea party philosophy but lacking broad electoral appeal — even when other tea party organizations would not — Kremer said the group would be more closely assessing the “viability” of candidates in 2012.
The Tea Party Express has “no regrets” about its endorsements last cycle, she said, but “there are some things we could do [differently]. Some of these candidates didn’t have the resources that they needed. So we need to get behind solid candidates that have the resources, that are viable going into 2012.”
Though the group won’t be endorsing a presidential candidate until after its co-sponsored debate with CNN in September, Kremer said that when choosing a candidate, the group would employ the same reasoning it did when it recently came to the rescue of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., under fire from other tea party activists for being too centrist. (In February, she told National Journal that “while Scott Brown may be a moderate for me, he’ll be a conservative in Massachusetts.”)
Kremer said electability would have to play a role in her group's backing a Republican presidential candidate. “I think that the number one objective is to defeat Barack Obama, and there are people who are eventually going to come together and get behind one candidate to do that,” she said.
In a somewhat ominous sign for Republicans, she said she "hopes" that the Tea Party need not endorse a third-party candidate in 2012.
Asked what inspired the pragmatic makeover, Kremer said: “There are people who are practical and realistic and understand how this works. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily started out that way. But they have evolved into that, and I think it’s a learning process and a growing process and we’re all working together to affect change, so how do we get there?”