The fortunes of the Tea Party have declined considerably since their founding a couple of years ago. Majorities of Americans view them unfavorably and they have caused some notable electoral losses where otherwise a conservative Republican was expected to win.
A new survey by Pew Research reveals an even more troubling future if you’re an aspiring Republican. The survey indicates that most Republicans want to see their Party change. As a group there is some ambiguity about the direction of the change with some wanting to shift further right, and others wanting to become more moderate. However, when looking at the Tea Party, the favored direction is crystal clear. They want Republicans to be more conservative and less willing to compromise with Democratic colleagues.
In addition to the starkly partisan bent of the Tea Party, the survey also shows that they regard themselves as more likely to vote, particularly in primaries. That’s incredibly good news for Tea Partiers – and Democrats. For example, polls show Sarah Palin as the favorite for the Republican nomination for the senate in Alaska. However, the same poll shows her getting crushed by Democratic incumbent, Mark Begich.
On almost every issue – immigration, abortion, marriage equality, guns – the Tea Party is decidedly more right-wing. They advocate the most conservative policies across the board, and are the least accommodating to negotiations with Democrats. The problem this presents to the GOP is that their current batch of representatives have actual records that contain evidence of legislative bargaining. That is anathema to the Teabaggers. Consequently, they are more likely to back opponents in Republican primaries to oust the offending members.
Stalwart conservatives like Lamar Alexander and Mitch McConnell are already drawing primary challengers. Tea Partiers are blasting them as liberals who are in league with President Obama’s mission to destroy America. It takes a pretty hefty serving of delusion to accuse McConnell, who declared that his highest priority was to make Obama a one-term president, of being a progressive partner to the President.
Should the extremist faction of the party prevail, they will create opportunities for Democrats to swoop in and grab a seat they would not have otherwise had a chance to win. Just ask Senators Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly, or even Harry Reid. And the Republicans in congress are already setting the stage for defeat. They have the lowest favorable ratings in history, and they are responding to that by threatening to shut the government down, wasting time with meaningless votes, and performing in ridiculous pseudo-scandal hearings.
The most obvious differentiating characteristics of the Tea Party is that they are older, whiter, more devoutly Christian, and more likely to be men. That puts them at odds with the general population. Therefore, while they may enjoy some primary victories, the general elections will be more problematic. They are out of sync with the electorate both demographically and ideologically.
Last year Democrats defied the odds and toughed out some unexpected wins. In a year that many predicted would be bloody for them, Democrats gained seats in both the House and the Senate, and of course, Obama won reelection. Some of the credit for that goes to Tea Party Republicans who simply had no chance of carrying their races. And now they seem hell-bent on repeating that performance. Democrats should be prepared to send thank you notes to the GOP in November of 2014 if this trend keeps up.