Republican Insiders to Tea Party: You’re Not Helping Us

Democrats are egging on tea-party challengers, while Republicans are all but begging them to stand down.

One of the most visible tea partiers, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, waits for an elevator off the Senate floor on Thursday.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
Dec. 13, 2013, 6:21 a.m.

For Demo­crats, the tea party is the gift that keeps on giv­ing. For Re­pub­lic­ans, the group is something akin to a flesh-eat­ing vir­us that threatens to chomp away at the GOP.

The civil war between es­tab­lish­ment and tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans in­tens­i­fied this week when House Speak­er John Boehner slammed out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups for “ri­dicu­lous” push­back against the bi­par­tis­an budget agree­ment, which cleared his cham­ber Thursday. Tea-party-sym­path­et­ic or­gan­iz­a­tions, Boehner later said, are “push­ing our mem­bers in places where they don’t want to be.”

Wash­ing­ton in­siders agree. Sixty-five per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an in­flu­en­cers on the Hill called tea-party chal­lengers to Re­pub­lic­an law­makers “very un­help­ful” to the GOP, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tion­al Journ­al Polit­ic­al In­siders poll pub­lished Fri­day. Their pres­ence on the cam­paign trail leads to fur­ther splin­ter­ing of the Grand Old Party, whose widen­ing rift between es­tab­lish­ment and tea-party mem­bers has not gone un­noticed by both Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ents and the gen­er­al pub­lic. “Let’s shoot at the op­pos­i­tion, not our own troops,” one In­sider pleaded. “Most Re­pub­lic­ans think they’re idi­ots,” said an­oth­er.

On the oth­er hand, 78 per­cent of Demo­crat­ic In­siders find tea-party chal­lengers to be “very help­ful.” Demo­crats de­pend on ul­tracon­ser­vat­ives can­did­ates like Steve Stock­man, who is tak­ing great pains to la­bel his Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent for a Sen­ate seat in Texas, Sen. John Cornyn, a lib­er­al. For them, a di­vided Re­pub­lic­an party means more legroom for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates to sweep voters fed up with ideo­lo­gic­al de­bates.

Polit­ic­al fig­ures like Stock­man do the job of drag­ging the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an im­age away from the main­stream — and voters — for the Demo­crats. With midterm elec­tions more than 10 months away, there’s still time for more tea-party chal­lengers to step up to the po­di­um and ex­acer­bate the situ­ation. “For every Rand Paul and Marco Ru­bio, you get five Ken Bucks and Todd Akins,” said one in­sider in the poll.

Come next Novem­ber, the biggest tea-party sup­port­ers could be the lib­er­als they want to squash. “We should be form­ing in­de­pend­ent-ex­pendit­ure com­mit­tees and su­per PACs to sup­port any tea parti­er in­ter­ested in tak­ing on Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents,” joked a Demo­crat­ic In­sider. An­oth­er summed up simply, “Thank you, Steve Stock­man.”

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