Why senators are avoiding the Tea Party Caucus
Some tea party favorites stayed away from the Thursday's meeting of the new Senate Tea Party Caucus, as newly elected Republicans try to define themselves in Washington.
The reluctance of tea party favorites like Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida and Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin to join a new Senate Tea Party Caucus points to the difficulty some incoming Republicans face in adjusting to the political realities of the Beltway while retaining the tea party bona fides they earned on the campaign trail.Skip to next paragraph
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Last year's House Tea Party Caucus had 50 members – this year's rolls haven't been released yet – but only four senators appeared before a throng of tea party supporters for the first meeting of the Senate Tea Party Caucus on Jan. 27.
Why are so few tea-party-backed senators willing to align themselves with the caucus, only months after the tea party was credited with fueling a Republican takeover of the House and boosting the party's Senate numbers?
The snub from Senators Rubio, Johnson, and others suggest that the newly elected politicians are carefully gauging the post-Tucson political winds, keenly aware that mainstream America may be tired of the kind of anti-Obama rhetoric that peppered the campaign trail and became emblematic of the small-government, anti-tax tea party movement.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Johnson hinted that his goal is broader conservative solidarity. "The reason I ran for the US Senate was to not only stop the Obama agenda but reverse it. I believe our best chance of doing that is to work towards a unified Republican Conference, so that's where I will put my energy," said Johnson, who told the Times he had "great respect for the tea party movement."
Such careful distancing may be necessary. "Tea party supported candidates run the risk of, if they stay on the message that put them in office, alienating themselves from the political process," says Joshua Dyck, a political scientist at the State University of New York, at Buffalo.
In the wake of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., where six people were killed and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gravely injured, some tea party Republicans have reconsidered their alliances and appearances. The president's poll numbers rose after his Tucson speech, where he squelched laments from the left about right-wing rhetoric playing a role in the shooter's motive, while appealing to the country to "pause ... and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."